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Google Drops Support for “Old” Browsers in GMail and Apps

By Craig Buckler



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Browser testing is a pain. There’s nothing worse than completing your web masterpiece only to find it breaks in browser X, version Y on OS Z when the user’s eating a tuna sandwich and facing North.

Google suffers the same distress but, within 2 months, they intend to solve the problem. According to their official blog:

Google Apps will only support modern browsers. Beginning August 1st, we’ll support the current and prior major release of Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari on a rolling basis. Each time a new version is released, we’ll begin supporting the update and stop supporting the third-oldest version.

note: What about…

Opera? It’s strange Google rarely mentions the fifth most-popular browser. It may have a relatively small 2% market share, but 2% is a lot of people and Opera has the most-used mobile browser. Give ’em a break, Google! Many of us test in Opera — you should too.

Google’s new policy has been determined by development teams who want to make use of modern HTML5 techniques such as file drag-and-drop or desktop integration. Older browsers should remain usable for a while, but certain application features will fail or be disabled. Eventually, an old browser may stop working altogether.

The policy raises a number of interesting questions. Both Google and Mozilla have implemented rapid release schedules and Firefox 5 is due within a few weeks. At that point, Google will abandon Firefox 3.x — a browser which was superseded only a few months ago and still enjoys a sizable 14% market share.

The bigger news is IE10. It could be released before the end of 2011 and, once that happens, Google will drop support for IE8 — the world’s most used browser and the only version of IE which can be installed on Windows XP. According to StatCounter, XP is used by almost 46% of the net population and many corporations are entrenched on the aging operating system. If they’re using Google Apps, they’ll either need to upgrade or migrate to an alternative browser. Either way, that incurs staff retraining or OS purchase costs which could outweigh the savings made by switching to Google’s products.

Given the rapid updates made to Chrome and Firefox, Google’s definition of an “obsolete” browser could be a version that’s been around for little more than 3 months. Few developers test beyond the current versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera but, like it or not, IE remains a special case.

It’s a brave move by Google. I admire their reasoning, but I’d be nervous about implementing a similar policy.

Would you?

Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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