/ 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?

Comments
Guest
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.

Guest
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.

Guest
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 🙂 )

Guest

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.

Guest

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.

Guest
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)

Guest

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?

Guest

As far as businesses go, I agree with you silconglen – it’s not as easy as all that (as argued in the Convo). When I talked about ‘upgrading if you have web access’ I was mainly referring to individuals at home (and those who access this site). Plus, there does need to be more support for those who aren’t web savvy, which we argue for in a Conversation on ‘silver surfers’: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/who-is-supporting-our-silver-surfers/

As far as I’m aware, due to a competition case, Microsoft now no longer includes Internet Explorer with Windows 7 in Europe. Instead it asks you which browser you’d like to install when you first access the internet.