The Official Google Enterprise Blog has announced that come March 1, Google will be phasing out support for old browsers. Google Docs and Google Sites will be the first Google cloud functionalities to go, but the language of the post implies that others will follow.
Though the change applies to Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari, it’s hard not to see one target at the heart of all of this: Internet Explorer 6.
From the Google Enterprise Blog:
The web has evolved in the last ten years, from simple text pages to rich, interactive applications including video and voice. Unfortunately, very old browsers cannot run many of these new features effectively. So to help ensure your business can use the latest, most advanced web apps, we encourage you to update your browsers as soon as possible. There are many choices:
Many other companies have already stopped supporting older browsers like Internet Explorer 6.0 as well as browsers that are not supported by their own manufacturers.
On its face, that sounds like a lot of affected browsers; why single out IE6? For starters, it’s a widely-circulated theory that the Chinese cyber attack on Google earlier this month came courtesy of IE6. Analyses by web security firms show time and time again that IE6 has security flaws. In 2004, Walt Mossberg recommended that readers dump Internet Explorer and adopt Firefox — which doesn’t sound terribly cutting-edge or counterintuitive today, but was more so in ’04 when IE6 and IE5 had a combined 92% of browser market share versus Firefox’s 2%.
Also, there’s the developer frustration factor: The Next Web tartly says that “IE6 is a truly hated browser amongst web developers. It’s out of date and doesn’t support many modern web technologies properly.” But: IE6 is still around and in force. According to InformationWeek, IE6 “is still the most popular browser in the world, with a global market share last month of 20.99%.”
Granted: this is an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, change. Losing Google Docs does represent a real loss for collaborative, officewide projects “on the cloud,” as the kids say, but: have you ever even heard of, much less used, Google Sites? No. You have not.
Google may not be blowing off 20% of the world at the moment — tellingly, they didn’t give a timetable for phaseouts of more crucial services, like GMail. But this doesn’t mean nothing, either, to employ a double negative: Google has signaled its willingness to throw its weight around by not attempting to accommodate every possible user.
The developers sure sound happy, in any event.