If you swear allegiance to both Internet Explorer and Google Apps, as of March 1st you may find yourself in an uncomfortable predicament, and frankly speaking, we're rather happy about all this. Google's recent decision will effect apps ranging from GMail to Google Docs. Enterprise folks, pay attention.
Last week the Google team announced that they’ll be reducing support for “older browsers like Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 as well as browsers that are not supported by their own manufacturers.” This news will mainly impact Microsoft’s IE6, which, according to usage stats from Net Applications, still has a 20% hold on the market.
The change will take place March 1st, and Goog has mentioned that “while you'll still be able to access these Google applications, newer features may not be available and some features may even stop working.”
Why? Google simply feels that the Web is developing quickly and therefore using an up-to-date browser is imperative -- even if that means exploring different options. In contrast, IE has been big on providing backwards compatibility in order to make sure older Web content could stick around.
Unfortunately, those efforts didn’t pan out so well. IE6 standards mode proved to be a particularly nasty knot, forcing developers to make many workarounds using spotty foundation, which, ultimately lead to a lot of content that couldn’t be viewed in the updated IE7.
After essentially breaking the Web, it's easy to see the sense in dropping IE6 compatibility entirely. On the Enterprise 2.0 front Google has been putting lots of energy into improving their document management solution with new storage capabilities and collaboration features. With that kind of development underway, who has time for problematic browsers?
Not So Fast...
And yet, many are saying dropping IE 6.0 is a big mistake. For one, the backlash from IE kids that stuck with version 6 could be scary. After all, simply switching browsers as Google suggests won't necessarily solve the problem. For Windows users, it is only by installing IE7 or IE8 that the IE6 code gets replaced in the operating system.
(Moreover, Google's blog post about the announcement doesn't even include IE8 in the list of recommended browsers.)
Secondly, the aforementioned 20% includes a number of larger companies and organizations that still use IE6. Mass testing and deployment of a new browser isn't a piece of cake--in fact, it can be very slow-going and pricey. What will happen to all the employees who can't individually upgrade their browsers because of locked-down PCs?
Some say that if Microsoft would drop support of IE6, a lot of these browser woes could be avoided, but to that Microsoft pulled the commitment card. IE's General Manager Dean Hachamovitch put it like this:
Dropping support for IE6 is not an option because we committed to supporting the IE included with Windows for the lifespan of the product. We keep our commitments. Many people expect what they originally got with their operating system to keep working whatever release cadence particular subsystems have.
It looks like IE6 is here to stay until 2014 when Microsoft is scheduled to stop supporting Windows XP, but Google will certainly continue to innovate around Docs. The situation is -- at the very least -- awkward for folks that find themselves in the middle, and will probably yield some pretty bad reviews on both sides. What do you think?