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.

Overcoming Information Overload

I imagine that most people who’ve been using the internet for a while have at some point suffered from “Information Overload”. Andrew Sackville, at his inaugural lecture mentioned wilfing – surfing the web without any real purpose – and that can be a problem too. In fact I spent most of my time at University in one of these two states. Visiting the BBC News website every twenty minutes is a sure sign that you’re suffering. I’m here to tell you that there is a way to escape getting trapped by the internet like this and the answer is RSS.

RSS lets websites, bloggers and content producers provide a constantly updated feed of information for interested parties to subscribe to. It’s been around for years but it’s really starting to gain momentum and with Firefox or Internet Explorer 7 it’s built right into the browser – just look for the little orange feed icon in the address bar or elsewhere on the page. Most large websites and virtually all blogs provide feeds and over the coming weeks and months more and more services offered by Edge Hill will have RSS feeds available.

There’s many ways of subscribing to a feed – if you have Firefox or IE7 just click on the feed icon to get started. Subscribed feeds show up like bookmarks that update themselves. The LTD blog mentioned an add-on for Groupwise which integrates RSS and ways to add RSS to WebCT. You can also get standalone software that installs on your PC and sits in the background checking for updates.

I prefer to keep track of my feeds online using Google Reader (other web-based feed readers are available). The major advantage of online services such as this is that it follows you to whichever PC you’re logged in on – you can even read your feeds through a mobile phone. Google Reader lists your subscribed feeds down the left and shows the content of them on the right. You can “star” interesting articles so you know to come back to them later or share them with other people (either through a web page or, predictably, via RSS!). Google Reader has allowed me to spend less time wilfing and more time reading articles that are actually interesting.

If you’re wanting to give a news reader a try and want some feeds to test then check out some of the feeds related to Edge Hill:

As I said, even more services will provide RSS feeds in the near future – one of the first will be the Edge Hill jobs website – and RSS will be used behind the scenes for many sites so there’s no getting away from it!

Technology terminology is stupid. RSS (which may or may not stand for “Really Simple Syndication” depending on who you speak to) is just one name for this idea. You may also hear them referred to as Atom, news feeds, feeds, XML feeds and probably many other names. In most cases, it’s not worth worrying – news readers are generally compatible with all formats and most websites and web browsers have standardised on the orange feed icon – that’s the one we’ll be putting on our websites!

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