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Google Apps to discontinue support for Internet Explorer 6

Tuesday 2nd February 2010

Google have announced that from March 1st 2010, they will no longer be supporting IE6 in their Google Docs Suite and Google Sites Editor Applications, meaing that users in IE6 may experience failures in key functionality. In an email sent out this week to users of Google Apps, they cited  the reasons for discontinuing support for IE6 as their desire for “harnessing some of the latest improvements in web browser technology.  This includes faster JavaScript processing and new standards like HTML5.” As such, they’ve began to discontinue support for older browsers that are no longer supported by their manufacturers.

A Developing Trend

This is comes as no surprise really, last year Youtube and Digg were the first major sites to take a big step away from IE6, when they announced that they would be phasing out support for the outdated browser, hated by developers the world over. The largest Social Media network in the world, Facebook, began to prompt users to upgrade from IE6 as well, which would go some way to decreasing its market share as people upgrade to keep up with their networking needs.

Google seem to be hell bent on putting the final nail in the IE6 coffin, having released Chrome Frame last year which allows users to reap the benefits of newer technologies for those who can’t update their browsers. Also, Google (along with Opera) initiated the European Union antitrust dispute with Microsoft, which has resulting in the soon to be implemented browser ballot, allowing users to actively select the browser they want to use to surf the Internet when they use their computer for the first time. Although this doesn't have a direct effect on IE6, since any new computers will be equipped with IE8 instead, it's the result of a clear signal of intent from Google to wrangle share of the market from Microsoft and build on Google Chrome's good first year.

Market Share

But Internet Explorer 6 isn’t quite dead yet, as statistics show that although IE6 usage worldwide declined by over one third in 2009, it is the 2nd most used browser version, second to Internet Explorer 8, with 1/5th of Internet users worldwide (1/20th in the USA and Europe though) yet to upgrade from IE6. That’s still a massive share of the Market, more than Firefox, Safari, Opera and Google’s Chrome browser. One of the main reasons that IE6 still has major market share is because it has been used in designing interfaces and intranets for corporate legacy systems, which are seen to be too expensive to replace. Anyone using one of these legacy systems in a corporate environment might be a little annoyed if they’ve paid to use Google Apps, but find out that soon they won’t be able to run Docs.

Bad Reputation

Any news to expedite the death of IE6 comes is always greeting with appreciation amongst the web development community, since IE6 is far and away the most hated of all browsers. It’s a little unfair really, the poor performance of the browser coupled with Microsoft’s poor public image contribute to making it “cool” to hate IE6, which means any campaign to destroy it would be very popular.  If you ask a lot of designers or developers they’ll tell you they hate IE6, as it makes building websites an awful lot harder. But the truth is that it’s not difficult for a competent developer to build a site that performs well in IE6 and does all the shiny things that you want in newer browsers, if you approach projects with progressive enhancement in mind. The simple fact is, that ignoring 20% or more potential users to your website just because you hate IE6 is not just ignorant, it’s a kick it the face to web accessibility & usability for visitors, and an insult to clients who pay good money to get a website designed, only for  their website to be unusable by a large portion of potential clients.

We’ve been told for years now that IE6 is on its way out, and although the latest announcements are definitely a step in that direction, and one that Google can no doubt afford to implement, I think that it’ll still be a long time before any responsible web developer should even consider dropping support for it.