Browser Support

A couple of weeks ago, Google announced that from 1 August 2011 they will be changing the way they support web browsers for their Google Apps products including Gmail. Their blog post gives a little more information:

For web applications to spring even farther ahead of traditional software, our teams need to make use of new capabilities available in modern browsers. For example, desktop notifications for Gmail and drag-and-drop file upload in Google Docs require advanced browsers that support HTML5. Older browsers just don’t have the chops to provide you with the same high-quality experience.

For this reason, soon 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.

As of August 1st, we will discontinue support for the following browsers and their predecessors: Firefox 3.5, Internet Explorer 7, and Safari 3. In these older browsers you may have trouble using certain features in Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs and Google Sites, and eventually these apps may stop working entirely.

This came at an interesting time for us as we were readying to launch our new website design. We’ve been forced to make decisions about which browser versions to support and which to ditch. Unlike Google, we’re still supporting Internet Explorer 7, though some subtle design elements may not work, but we too have the problem of not being able to take advantage of features in more modern browsers.

IE7 is five years old yet is still being used by over 20% of visitors to GO. Some of these will be machines on campus and colleagues are working to upgrade these but others are beyond our direct control.

We will however no longer support IE6. Use of this is around 2.5% yet to develop for it would consume a disproportionate amount of time. It’s also 10 years old and even Microsoft want rid of it!

More generally we’ve seen use of Internet Explorer drop by around 15% since January 2010 while Chrome is up by 10% and Safari up by 4%. Firefox and Opera have both maintained their position.

Browser share - www.edgehill.ac.uk

Browser share - go.edgehill.ac.uk

The adoption of modern browsers is important for the web to keep developing. Just as things start to go wrong if you don’t service or MOT your car, when using an out of date web browser, not everything will function as designed and there are potential security risks too. So I’d encourage everyone to make sure they’re running the latest version of a browser – then we can start to innovate rather than always struggling to cater for the lowest denominator.

Mobile device usage

Last week I mentioned that while I couldn’t give a definitive list, our initial focus for a mobile website would be higher end devices. One thing we do know is what people are using at the moment to access our sites on the move:

Mobile device usage for www.edgehill.ac.uk

Data for the above chart is taken from 14th April – 13th June 2010 and the usual warnings apply to statistics sourced from Google Analytics – it only includes browsers executing JavaScript.

What is clear though is that Apple’s devices are massively more popular than anything else – over 75% of page views are from iPhones and iPod Touch browsers.

Mobile usage is fast moving so we’ll be continuing to monitor trends and statistics will drive much of what we do in our forthcoming developments.

How do you solve a problem like IE6?

There’s been quite a lot of talk in the mainstream news about Internet Explorer 6 – Microsoft’s browser released in 2001 along side Windows XP. IE6 has a long history of security vulnerabilities and has been linked to the Chinese attacks on Google.

More recently French and German governments have advised people to upgrade and there is a petition to make the UK government follow suit. For Edge Hill’s corporate website, 7.5% of visits are from people using IE6 – higher than Safari, Chrome and Opera.

As web developers, life would be so much easier if we could relegate IE6 to the lower divisions and would encourage uptake of new techniques like those in HTML5. This isn’t necessarily because they can’t be done along side IE6, but supporting it is one more thing we have to do.

When I asked this question earlier on Twitter I got a variety of responses. The Ormskirk Baron (prolific reviewer of beer and web guru) bluntly suggested we “support it” and yes we should but can’t we try to move people along? Patrick Lauke suggests not:

is it your place to do anything about it? they may have good reason (e.g. access from school where IT Dept locked won to IE6)

This to me is the heart of the problem. There will almost certainly be people who can’t upgrade and we need to ensure we don’t annoy them too much. But there will also be people who simply don’t know and those that may have no direct control over what browser they’re using (maybe through inexperience or company restrictions) but can be helped to change.

Another suggestion with potential came from Matthew Walton:

Implement an incredibly compelling new feature which doesn’t work properly in IE6.

I don’t want to go back 10 years to the situation where “you must be using Internet Explorer 4 or Netscape Navigator 3 to enter this site” but there are ways to introduce new functionality while still offering something for older browsers.

But prizes (no monetary value) go to Alex Mace and Martyn Davies for the following suggestions that I wish I could get away with:

alexmace: @MikeNolan Pop a lightbox over the screen that says “OMG, SECURITY FAIL – please hand in your internet access license”

and

martynrdavies: @MikeNolan I’m recommending going to the house of every user and upgrading their browser whilst informing them of their failure.

More questions than answers? You expected anything else?! 😉

Browser stats

Phil Wilson from the University of Bath has just published a summary of browser statistics so I thought it might be interesting to do a comparison.

We also use Google Analytics and it covers virtually every page on the site.  We don’t distinguish internal visitors so I’ll give figures for external and total.

External visitors:

Browser Visits Breakdown
Internet Explorer 79.65% IE6: 18.5%; IE7: 68.5%; IE8: 13%
Firefox 14.05%
Safari 3.78%
Chrome 1.89%
Opera 0.25%

All visitors:

Browser Visits Breakdown
Internet Explorer 80.30% IE6: 17%; IE7: 71%; IE8: 11.8%
Firefox 13.77% FX2: 6%; FX3: ~90%
Safari 3.55%
Chrome 1.80%
Opera 0.23%

Still far too many IE6 users both inside and outside the University. I will be very glad when it stops being a significant problem but browser share is dropping very slowly and none of the various proposals for encouraging people to upgrade seem very attractive to me.

Interestingly, looking at the stats for blogs.edgehill.ac.uk, Firefox usage jumps to 33.5% with IE at 56%.

Internet Explorer Security Alert

So the BBC have finally picked up the news and jumped on the bandwagon. Mass media are now telling you to switch to a more secure web browser (you know, the thing your using to view this web page with).

From the BBC:

The flaw in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer could allow criminals to take control of people’s computers and steal their passwords, internet experts say.

As many as 10,000 websites have been compromised since last week to take advantage of the security flow, said antivirus software maker Trend Micro.

Are you ready to make the switch? I certainly don’t want my passwords or bank account details stolen and my bank account emptied, do you?

For you home computers and laptops: Get Firefox now!

Steve Daniels

And then there were four

Safari LogoApple made the surprise announcement yesterday that they’re releasing Safari for Windows. First impressions are that it’s fast, with some neat features – check out the article length slider when you view an RSS feed and search as you type – but it’s got the iTunes grey interface which I don’t particularly like.

The browser wars are really hotting up again. It will be interesting to see how much market share they can get from IE, Firefox and Opera, and I suspect that as soon as it comes out of beta they’ll be pushing it out along side QuickTime and iTunes.

As web developers, the major benefit will be if rendering is the same as Safari for Mac OS X which would allow us to more easily test compatibility. If it’s another slight variation then it’ll just be a pain!

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