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Why Should I Have the Latest Web Browser Version?

Published on June 24, 2011
Tags: Usability, Internet Security

We wrote a few months ago about the way in which out-dated web browsers and other technology can cause problems not only for web designers, but users as well. After all, if there is a major discrepancy between the latest web trends and what a user’s browser can handle, there is highly likely to be some impact on performance and display. One of the biggest browser culprits here is IE6 (Internet Explorer 6.0), which is still a widely used browser, despite the fact that Microsoft has been urging people for some time to upgrade to newer software.

Now, though, it looks like web users are going to have to take note, as Google recently announced that it intends to phase out its support for older browsers. These include IE7, Firefox 3.5, Safari 3 and all of their predecessors. This means that people using those browsers and trying to access anything from Gmail to Google Docs and Sites will begin to notice issues with their performance from 1 August 2011 – and eventually, Google will withdraw its support for these browsers all together. Research from StatCounter suggests that 17% of web users will need to upgrade their browser as a result of Google’s announcement.

So why have Google made this choice? There are a couple of reasons they have done so. One is that newer browsers tend to be more secure, more efficient and generally offer better performance. Another is because if web designers and coders are going to make use of all the latest technology, it helps if everyone is using a browser that can support HTML5. Ultimately then, this is something that should ultimately benefit everyone and, considering how long Microsoft has been waging a campaign to persuade people to ditch its own IE6, relatively drastic action such as this appears to be the sensible option.

More than this, Google has said that this programme of phasing out support for old browsers will continue. This means that when, for instance, a new version of Internet Explorer makes an appearance, support for the third oldest version of IE will gradually be withdrawn to encourage people to make the upgrade to the new one (or, as Google would most likely prefer, switch to Chrome instead).

This also has the added benefit of making things easier for Google, as it means they won’t have to carry out lengthy compatibility tests with older browsers before releasing new sites, features and updates. The development is also significant as Google is something of a market leader in many areas of the web, so their announcement that they won’t be supporting older browsers suggests that other corporations and web designers will soon be able to follow suit, especially as the new rules have an impact and (hopefully) users start to move to newer technology.

The developments also add to an increasing array of actions undertaken by internet giants in order to modernise the web. As well as campaigns by Microsoft to reduce IE6 use and an extensive effort by Firefox to get its users to upgrade from version 3.5 of its browser, other changes are afoot in the online world. A new batch of IP addresses – IPv6 – is scheduled for release very soon. ICANN, the internet’s domain name regulator, has just launched its plans to massively extend the domains on offer (adding more choice to the current system of .com, .co.uk and so on).

All of this is very interesting and the fact that all these developments are happening around the same time suggests that maybe, in some ways, the internet has exceeded whatever expectations people might previously have had for it. One of the main reasons IPv6 is being released is because the world is running out of IPv4 addresses, even though previously there was thought to be plenty of those addresses to keep us going for quite some time. The world’s appetite for the online world seems to have been underestimated.

It also shows that new developments are being made in online technology all the time, but that developing that technology in the first place is only half the problem. Once the ability to do something has been generated, there is then a second wave of activity while internet companies attempt to get users to agree that things are a good idea. It’s practically inevitable that there is going to be a delay between invention and adoption of ideas.

Perhaps, though, Google has just touched on part of the solution. If people are going to be persuaded to adopt newer browsers, then if conventional approaches don’t work, the option for older browsers has to be taken away. Change has to happen, or else the internet will stagnate, leading to problems not just in compatibility and design, but also security – something that it is more important than ever to be aware of. So, it might seem drastic and some web users might not be thrilled about it, but ultimately it has to be said that Google’s decision to reduce its support for older browsers is, in the long run, for the best.

If you haven’t updated your browser to the latest version, the following links will help you. Do bear in mind that upgrading is free, will make your computer more secure, will make web sites you view more usable, and generally the browser will run faster and more smoothly - even on an old computer!

And if you’d like to see how your website looks on older browsers, take a look at: Spoon.net

By Chelsey Evans

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