Google's browser tough love

GEORGE WRIGHT
Last updated 13:06 12/11/2012

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Those counting on Google Apps will have to let go of Internet Explorer 8.

Google's browser support philosophy of "one version behind current" is about to come into force. Google Apps will discontinue support for IE8 on November 15. 

Internet Explorer 8, released in March 2009, was seen by many as Microsoft's first attempt at taking web standards more seriously while providing the soft option of including a "quirks" mode which effectively maintained compatibility with IE7.

This failure to break with non-standard methods meant programmers had no reason to update coding on software that was designed only for IE.

Complicating the issue is that IE8 is the last of the Microsoft browsers to run on Windows XP. Large institutions still sitting on XP are those that have invested in information systems that run on the IE6 and 7. There are some hard choices for them to make now - stick with XP but install Firefox or migrate to Windows 7 or 8. IE8 is a browser caught in limbo.

For those organisations that still require IE versions that support Active-X and other hacks only offered by versions 6 and 7, you have had four years to adapt and repeatedly failed to read the signs. You have painted yourself into a corner.

Increasingly, many modern websites and service providers are practising tough love and are moving away from feature-limited, insecure and out-of-date software. Less effort is going into ensuring these services degrade elegantly.

Every week, in my own workplace, great web-based data visualisations and other rich-media news-orientated executions get stalled because there is still a sizeable audience using browsers that are unable to support current web technologies. Timeliness to publish is more critical than waiting the extra development time to create a more complicated version that runs on all browsers. It is a pity that the web is being held hostage in this way.

Google's decision to discontinue support for older browsers may in fact help corporate adoption of the newer Microsoft Windows platform - Windows 8. Microsoft's own cloud-based office suite Office 365 still includes support for IE8 which may tip some more users their way for those who were considering Google Apps but must stay on XP. 

For most people, the browser is the most important piece of software on their computer. If you are sticking with IE8 because you don't know any better, take this as a not-so-subtle nudge to consider upgrading. The web looks and performs much better on current browsers. Consumers who use IE8 alone will increasingly find themselves in the internet equivalent of a cul-de-sac in the bad end of town, as the only websites that will cater for them are scam sites and security exploits.

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If you are the person responsible for maintaining your standard desktop environment, I have a great deal of sympathy for you and hope you can come to a solution. If you are a developer who requires IE6, 7 or 8 in order to make your product work, sort yourself out. The clock is ticking.

I think Office 365 developers are probably looking forward to the day when they don't have to support IE8 as well. I know I am.

-IT Pro

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