Google Drops Support for Old Browsers

By Kieran

A Fresh Grave

Congratulations to Google for deciding to drop support for old browsers.  The web cannot bloom without some pruning of dead wood every now and then.  In a recent e-mail to Google App admins, Google announced they are withdrawing support for browsers prior to Internet Explorer 7.0, Firefox 3.0, Chrome 4.0, and Safari 3.0.

IE 6 was released nearly nine years ago in August of 2001.  With how dramatically things have changed on the web in the past nine years, it is hard to believe there are still folks who do still support it.  How long after a new product is released should an old product be maintained by the creators and supported by third-parties?  An equally important question, in my opinion, is how long should software dependent on old technologies be maintained before getting an overhaul.  Technical debt grows exponentially as the years go on, and it quickly becomes harder and less cost-effective to maintain old software than it would be to start over and do things the right way based on current standards and practices.  Read on to view the e-mail from Google.

Dear Google Apps admin,

In order to continue to improve our products and deliver more sophisticated features and performance, we are harnessing some of the latest improvements in web browser technology.  This includes faster JavaScript processing and new standards like HTML5.  As a result, over the course of 2010, we will be phasing out support for Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 as well as other older browsers that are not supported by their own manufacturers.

We plan to begin phasing out support of these older browsers on the Google Docs suite and the Google Sites editor on March 1, 2010.  After that point, certain functionality within these applications may have higher latency and may not work correctly in these older browsers. Later in 2010, we will start to phase out support for these browsers for Google Mail and Google Calendar.

Google Apps will continue to support Internet Explorer 7.0 and above, Firefox 3.0 and above, Google Chrome 4.0 and above, and Safari 3.0 and above.

Starting this week, users on these older browsers will see a message in Google Docs and the Google Sites editor explaining this change and asking them to upgrade their browser.  We will also alert you again closer to March 1 to remind you of this change.

In 2009, the Google Apps team delivered more than 100 improvements to enhance your product experience.  We are aiming to beat that in 2010 and continue to deliver the best and most innovative collaboration products for businesses.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sincerely,

The Google Apps team

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8 Responses to “Google Drops Support for Old Browsers”

  1. Kieran says:

    A friend and I were just discussing this topic on Facebook and I thought it was important to note the *negative* of removing support. Many schools and non-profit/volunteer organizations have older equipment that may not be capable of running modern software. Unfortunately, these are the same people that are likely looking to the web for free web-based software rather than paying for the desktop counterparts. Having acknowledged this, we were both still glad to see Google taking steps to move the web forward and hope more folks follow. Organizations may need to look to slimmer browsers that aren’t so demanding of resources or find ways of bringing in newer donations or cheap hardware.

  2. Kristopher says:

    Finally! I understand some organizations don’t have the money or resources to have their IT organization upgrade hundreds of computers and do testing on their systems to make sure software still works, but I’m sure there are many web development companies out there who don’t want to spend money making sure their applications work for these antiquated browsers (I know we don’t).

    Not only is it holding the web back, but old browsers often are riddled with security issues, especially after they reach end of life for support. I’m pretty sure most of those organizations running IE6 aren’t running a 10 year old antivirus suite as well. What a contradiction.

  3. Kieran says:

    I can’t wait to see what the future of the web holds. Just by not supporting relatively old browsers, the door for many more features and enhancements has been opened.

  4. Josh says:

    As an avid IE hater in general, I can’t say I’m sad to see it go… Now if only Microsoft would implement some sort of MANDATED upgrade…

    What’s equally as pathetic though is the fact that IE7 isn’t much better than IE6! I guess that’s simply from a webdev point of view though. I mean IE7 was years behind it’s time in terms of supporting the most basic of CSS2.1 attributes!

    Oh well, I suppose Microsoft is so huge and has so much money laying around, they really don’t have to worry too much about market shares anymore.

  5. Kieran says:

    Mandated upgrades are a touchy subject though. Shouldn’t it be *your* decision when and how to upgrade. I remember when Windows Media Player added DRM “security” and half of the folks I know refused to upgrade. I suppose you could break apart new feature upgrades from bug fixes and security patches, but you’d still have people upset at how the company categorized their releases. Personally, I think one should have the right to *not* upgrade, but then third-party providers shouldn’t be “forced” to support old software. Which brings us back to Google; kudos for them dropping IE 6 from their supported list. Those still using the old browser can either learn how to do upgrades, get new hardware somehow if needed to support the upgrade, or… not use the third-party software. In my opinion, they forfeit their “right” to use some software by not upgrading. It isn’t Microsoft’s fault, nor Google’s.

  6. Josh says:

    I was about to make a comment about how I could see your point and then relate it to the idea of older cars still being serviced by mechanics… However, that train of thought brought me to yet another train of thought…

    The Federal government MANDATES that you have certain environmentally friendly features on your vehicle, no matter what it’s age. So, in a very loose sense, I suppose that could be somewhat the same as the separation of bug fixes/patches you had mentioned.

    I mean, I personally don’t think it would be too far fetched for some “free rights” extremists to simply upgrade a damn browser (or at least parts of it) because it was made mandatory in order to progress the web rather than sending it into a regression.

    I don’t know though. I suppose I’m just too biased on the issue. I suppose I’d be the other end of the spectrum in terms of “extremists”, for the simple fact that I’ve actually refused quite a few good paying freelance jobs due to the fact that they required it to be “optimized for internet explorer” and IE6 compatible.

  7. Kieran says:

    An interesting idea was thrown out by Briant Kochera in the February 2010 issue of PC Word in their PCW Forum section. While he was speaking of Windows and not IE, the concept seemed fitting to share. What if legacy software was open sourced and the public could maintain it? A prime example would be Mozilla building Firefox off of Netscape code. Granted, Netscape went by the wayside, but they did co-exist for quite a while. It would never happen, purely for the fact that I think an open sourced version of an older IE would probably become more popular, secure, and standards compliant than the current version of IE, and Microsoft wouldn’t have any part of that happening. An interesting idea nonetheless.

  8. Josh says:

    Haha! I too think that is an excellent idea… but as you said, it’ll never happen! lol

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