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.

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?! 😉

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

An Apple a Day

Apple recently released the latest version of Safari and it’s really impressive. It’s blisteringly fast compared to Firefox 2 and IE (Firefox 3 – currently in testing – is set to be pretty fast as well). In the last couple of days Apple has started pushing this out along side updates to Quicktime and iTunes.

This comes as absolutely no surprise to me, in fact I predicted it when Apple first announced Safari was coming to Windows:

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.

Quite a few people are upset about this. Seriously, get over it. If it reduces the number of people using criminally bad web browsers like IE 6 then that’s a good thing.

Firefox on the rise

Usage statsIn one of my occasional trawls through our usage statistics I noticed that Firefox usage has been rising quite slowly over the last six months but shot up in the last month or so. Firefox usage is now over 10% compared with 8.3% just a month ago. Safari usage has also crept up and is now over 2%.

These figures are for the main website and it’s interesting to see how it’s different for specific sites. The Hi Applicant Community has over 20% Firefox usage (although this has dropped a little over the last month – at one point it was 28%) showing that adoption of alternative browsers amongst college students is higher. The Edge Hill Job Vacancies site is lower than the rest of the corporate site.

For Internet Explorer, Microsoft can be glad that adoption of IE 7 has increased 5% in the last month which goes a little way to compensate for the fact Firefox and Safari are eating away at their lead. Usage of IE 7 should overtake IE6 in the next month.

What does all this mean? Well, not a huge amount really. Only a tiny proportion of users aren’t using A-grade browsers and even then, our sites are designed to degrade gracefully. More interesting is the general trend that more people are prepared to look for alternatives to the default installed IE and hopefully in doing so will speed up the adoption of things like RSS feeds and Microformats, when they get built into the browsers.

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!

>