Google: Phase-out of IE6 support will remain limited to Google Apps

In a now very well-cited blog post from last Friday, Google Apps Senior Product Manager Rajen Sheth announced that as of March 1, Google Docs and Google Sites (the company's tool for building your own Web sites) will no longer support Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 Web browser. A Google spokesperson told Betanews this afternoon that Sheth meant exactly what he said, and no more -- specifically, that the initial phase-out will begin a schedule of similar phase-outs for other apps in the Google Apps suite.

The statement should not be taken to mean, the spokesperson told Betanews, that the company's various Web properties (for instance, ad platforms) will no longer support IE6. Sheth was only speaking for the Google Apps team, we were told. YouTube, a Google division, announced its plan to phase out IE6 support last July.

The reason for the phasing out, says Google's spokesperson, is the need for browsers to enable support for new facilities in JavaScript (for example, jQuery) and for HTML 5, which Google has recently been characterizing as the new Web standard for built-in video. The ability to embed YouTube videos is a feature of Google Docs; and YouTube has already begun its own public experiment in alternative HTML 5-based delivery, although using the proprietary H.264 codec rather than the open source Ogg Theora codec.

A full-scale exodus from IE6 support, were there to have been one, would conceivably have affected how Google Analytics works with clients' browsers. IE6 may still be installed on as many as one-third of PCs worldwide, and a great many Web sites (too many, by some folks' reckoning) continue to support rendering for IE6's unofficial, de facto standards. Yanking the cord on IE6 support in just a matter of weeks would have conceivably forced servers worldwide to implement sweeping changes in the way their sites work and behave.

How sweeping? As IE8 continues to wean Microsoft's family of Web browsers away from VBScript -- the scripting language derived from Visual Basic whose engine enabled the ILOVEYOU e-mail virus a decade ago -- certain elements of VBScript functionality no longer function without the use of "compatibility mode." Many corporate intranet sites and Web applications continue to use logon scripts and security functions written using VBScript, long after the rest of the world has pretty much adopted JavaScript. Those scripts were written as part of software packages that have yet to attain the full five years of amortization that some businesses require -- 5 years before they feel comfortable enough with having regained their lost value, to invest in their replacements.

A move by all of Google to have cut IE6 off on March 1 might have forced some of its advertising and analytics customers to seek other avenues.

Sheth's message last Friday suggested that Web browser users upgrade to more modern editions; and in his list, he included IE7 and newer (IE8), Mozilla Firefox 3.0 and newer, Apple Safari 3.0 and newer, and Google's own Chrome 4.0. Not Chrome 3.0, which was the current stable edition as of only last week.
This afternoon, a Google spokesperson confirmed to Betanews that as of March 1, Google will consider only Chrome 4.0 and newer to be officially supported browsers, adding that Chrome users are upgraded to 4.0 automatically.

"Google Chrome automatically updates all users to the latest version of the browser," the spokesperson told us, "so users don't have to worry about running out-of-date software. Google Chrome's Beta and Stable channels are currently on 4.0, and the Developer channel is on 5.0, so Chrome users are already upgraded away from 3.0 versions of the browser."

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