/ Technology

Good on Google for stopping old web browser support

Google Chrome web pages

From 1 August this year, Google will discontinue support for Firefox 3.5, Internet Explorer 7, Safari 3 and their predecessors. Is it about time we are forced to upgrade our browsers, or will it leave some in the dark?

Google’s phasing out support for old internet browsers – which (according to Google) means IE7, Safari 3, Firefox 3.5 and anything before them.

What does this mean in practise? Well, you’ll struggle to use certain features in Google’s Gmail, Calendar, Talk, Docs and maybe even its flagship search site (though the latter is unlikely). Some of these services may stop working altogether.

Web technology needs to move on

Why the drastic action? Modern browsers feature a lot of new tech that companies want to exploit. The modern introduction of HTML5 in particular is used by Google for desktop notifications in Gmail and drag-and-drop file uploading in Google Docs.

In Google’s own words, ‘older browsers just don’t have the chops to provide you with the same high-quality experience’.

Will this mean that Google.co.uk will suddenly stop working on your archaic browser? Not necessarily. By ‘dropping support’ Google means it will only check whether its services work on modern browsers. If some of its new features stop functioning in IE6 – tough luck, Google ain’t going to fix it. So although you might be able to access Google’s sites on your antiquated browser, there’s no guarantee they’ll work.

How many need to upgrade?

Google’s move may have quite a significant effect on those who have yet to upgrade – around 17% of worldwide web users will need to download a new browser according to Statcounter.

Thankfully it looks like Which? Conversation readers are ahead of the curve. After having a quick gander at our site’s stats, I’ve found that only 10% of you are accessing it from browsers Google will no longer support. Plus, everyone who’s responded to our straw poll on Twitter is up-to-date. Nay bad.

But will Google’s decision actually make a difference? Both Mozilla and Microsoft have been trying to get people to upgrade for years, either with pop-up adverts or automatic updates. They’ve had limited success – Microsoft says there are still a sorry 11% of worldwide internet users on IE6.

What’s stopping you from updating?

Personally I think Google’s move is a brilliant one – web technology won’t move forward if companies are forced to spend their time and resources on old, incapable browsers.

I can, however, see it being a slight problem for businesses, where upgrading browsers is more than just a case of ‘click to install’. But maybe this is the nudge they need to do it? Fat Sam called out the company he works for when he struggled to view Which? Convo on IE6:

‘The PC I was using only has IE6 – our company makes a big song and dance about its online services yet for the vast majority it’s an ancient version of a pee-poor browser.’

Ultimately, if you have access to the web, you have the ability to upgrade your browser – why not just do it? In fact, if you’re still on an ageing browser I’ll make it easy for you – get the latest Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari or Opera by following their respective links.

Do you think Google’s move is unfair, or a required step to get people off their old browsers?

Mark says:
6 June 2011

It’s not a problem at all. Updating a browser is (usually) free and can be done with a click.

It improves speed for everyone as code can be optimised. Maintaining compatibility with increasingly outdated browsers (like IE6 which can often struggle with even stylesheets) is a major pain and can require nasty kludges.

The only issue is people on very old machines, mostly these are often being used for a specific purpose by people who know what they’re doing, so no problem there. For things like email etc, there is always pop/imap access, going through a browser day to day is not essential – so as long as settings can be accessed on older browsers, I really have no problem with it at all.

If still using a 386, or MacOS9, then you’ve probably, by now, had many other problems with compatibility, this makes so little difference.

Fat Sam, Glos says:
7 June 2011

Unfortunately it is a problem and will continue to be a problem for those surfing from business networks. IT staff have enough things to worry about than updating hundreds of workstations, many with multiple browsers for those of us who have the business need for them, even remotely, on a regular basis.

What would be a much better step in the right direction is making better browsers for smartphones to be able to keep up with the many technological advances and user experiences that HTML 5 allows. I have an iPhone 4 and the Safari browser on it is complete pants. I may as well surf using telnet 🙂 – OK, all I’m saying is that it could be much, much better. Unfortunately, most iPhone users drool up Steve Jobs’ backside and don’t admit to seeing the many flaws in his ‘better-than-anyone-else’ world.

Sorry, had to get that off my chest.

Fat Sam, Glos says:
7 June 2011

Having said that, I totally agree with your comment that upgrading from your personal laptop/PC is definitely recommended and is extremely easy to do (though i think it might be 3 clicks: upgrade, install – restart 🙂 )

Who, in the know, is watching out for the little features that are being removed in upgrades of all browsers?
For example, how does an iphone viewer of a website know what is and isn’t an affiliate link?
How can a google user have “inprivate” browsing?

What information is being gathered behind the scenes with all these new upgrades? How is it being used?
I try to embrace new technology and advancements in software, but I can recall one windows update that removed the “burn to dvd” option from the folder options, without telling anyone. When I rang microsoft to enquire (as I used the feature for burning music dvds for the car head unit) they were very sheepish, refusing to answer questions and surprisingly no one knew about how to get it back.
Advance and move forward is all very well, providing the end user is protected and can see for themselves what is going on behind the software and how it works.

I agree with frugal ways, sometimes it seems that the upgrades actually eliminate some functionality of the last edition, and also you have to re-learn the layout of the toolbars and the location of the icons that you are familiar with. I would like to see an industry comment from the browser providers, particularly concerning withdrawal of some functionality on upgrades.

Soph says:
6 June 2011

I’m primarily an Opera browser user on my home computers – should I be amused or worried that Google apparently discounts it? (Not that it’s so relevant to me as I’m using the latest version anyway)

I welcome this move. IE6 is completely past its sell by date. However who wrote the nonsense about having web access means you can upgrade your browser or install software? Maybe not everyone in corporate PC land has admin rights to do this..

If you are still stuck on IE6 the first question should be how do you deal with disabled people who have specific browser needs and who you need to cater for under the Equalities Act and secondly is it not possible to install a recent FireFox or Chrome alongside the legacy IE to provide a browser written this millenium and access to websites without legacy compatibility issues?

Paranoimia says:
6 June 2011

A welcome move. Support for old browsers – particularly the old, broken and non-standards compliant IE versions – should have been removed a long, long time ago. Not just by Google, but by everyone.

CaptRamius says:
6 June 2011

Sorry but it’s naive to say that if you have access to the internet, you can upgrade. The vast majority of those stuck on older browsers are in environments where their IT infrastructure is managed outwith the user’s control. If you have a locked down PC, with no admin rights, how are you to upgrade?

I fully support encouraging everyone to keep their browsers up-to-date, since security is so important.

For Google to give only two months’ notice does not seem very professional. There has got to be a compromise between this and supporting ancient software like IE6, which is still widely used in the corporate environment. as has already been mentioned.

I work in an institution where new software images including a browser are released only once a year. Fortunately, I’m not obliged to use an imaged computer and keep my own browsers up-to-date.

I moved to Firefox about 14 months ago, but earlier this year I found I could not log-on to the “Which?” (a well-known consumer advice magazine) website. There was also a bit of difficulty with NatWest on-line banking. I am now on Google Chrome which seems fine and doesn’t have too much on-screen clutter.

Manaslu says:
7 June 2011

I went to update my recently installed Firefox to be told that it was not yet compatible with Adobe Acrobat – so I didn’t as I use Acrobat a great deal.

It is compatible with Adobe Acrobat and will read pdf files without having Acrobat installed.

You can always have IE7/8/9 installed in case you need it, which is rare.

Well as updated browers are free, as they are also more secure and generally work better what is the issue? Why persist with an older less capable version?

There is one exception on the theme of updated software. I prefer older versions of media player to the latest offerings. They seem more controlable and logical to me.

Having used gmail for years – I must admit its good – but not cutting edge in fancy graphics etc so I can’t see any reason why it would not work with Firefox 3.5

Mind you, 3.6 is virtually the same – no-one could see a visual difference, so this is a bit of a null storyline.

As for IE7/8/9 – if you like swimming with pockets full of stones – this is for you.
Everyone else uses a more stable browser, with Firefox beating them all.
Chrome is still lacking in useful features, always feels like a Beta to me.
Safari – why? No point at all to it.

Fred says:
8 June 2011

Yes I agree. No I don’t.

I like IE9, but Sky doesn’t. Lately, their view of the day’s papers doesn’t include a ‘next’ field – so if I want to see what the second paper says I have to use another browser.

Progress is great, but it needs the support of the major players. Just like operating systems – I’m on Win 7 64 bit ‘cos Ilike toys ! The sensible option is XP

David W

This is a positive move by Google, they are not alone and not the first to try and encourage users to update their browsers. For individuals the issue is education, with many not understanding that updating your browser is good practice.

Corporates however are a different matter and primarily continue to use Internet Explorer 6 (IE 6), despite it being very outdated because of a reluctance to change. Originally launched over 10 years ago and with Internet Explorer 7 released way back in 2006 there’s already been plenty of time for browsers to have been updated. The argument that it’s hard for IT departments to change has worn thin as the years have rolled on.

It seems to me that corporate IT departments approach is “If it’s not broken don’t touch it”, and as a consequence they’ve been happy to delay making changes and have continued with IE 6 rather than upgrade. However, IE6 has security issues and is no longer fit for purpose on the modern web. It does need fixing – and this can be done by upgrading.

In summary, it seems ironic that IT departments appear to be the biggest hindrance affecting the advancement of Information Technology. If change is forced upon them, that can only be a good thing.

It’s time to ask if organisations that provide their staff with IE6 as the only browser are fit to do their job.

How does this affect iPad users who can only access the Internet via Safari?

Geoff says:
10 June 2011

Looking at the comments below I can empathasize with a couple of contributors who have encountered problems when upgrading to newer browsers. I have recently upgraded both my laptop and fixed machines to IE9, which came through automatically as a Windows “important” upgrade. With the upgraded browser the address book facility within Virgin (ntlworld) no longer functions correctly. I’ve spoken to the Virginmedia support line (with whom conversation was very difficult – partly on account of a very poor telephone link but also because of the language barrier – and the only suggestion I was offered was to revert to an earlier version of IE. I enquired whether any effort was being made to make the Virgin e-mail application compatible with IE9 but suddenly all understanding of what I was asking seemed to be lost. So it’s not just end-users who need to take account of browser upgrades – ISPs need to provide for them as well.

chrnirl says:
10 June 2011

When I upgraded to Firefox 4.0 I found that I could no longer send print jobs from my laptop running Windows 7 to my HP wireless printer. I could not find a solution to my problem so I uninstalled Firefox 4.0, installed Firefox 3.6 and I can print again.I sent a report to Mozilla and got no response. I am not the only one with this problem and I do not think the problem has been sorted yet. chrnirl

Dickie says:
12 June 2011

Not much in the comments about problems I could face by sticking with IE7 (I tried IE8 – not good) Anything to add please?

If you have Windows 7 or Vista you can install IE9, or one of the alternative browsers. As stated in the article, IE7 is an old browser (and not a very good one).

PenisINaBottle says:
16 November 2012

That is MY choice not googles.!.