Google begins killing off support for older browsers -- well, not that old

Logan's Run

Wouldn't it be funny if Google turned out to be the Internet's security cop? That's one way to interpret the search and information giant's continued push to clear away aging web browsers. First Internet Explorer 6, now Firefox 3.5, IE7 and Safari 3. Google will stop supporting these latter three browsers two months from today.

Google's reasons have nothing to do with security, but there could be a safety benefit. Let's face it, major developers invest more in their newest browser versions. More significantly, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla are now on fast development tracks, with new browser milestones coming every six to eight weeks. For example, Firefox 4 launched in late March with great fanfare -- 6 million downloads in 24 hours -- yet version 7 Nightly builds are already available for download. Firefox 5 is scheduled to release on June 21.

Somebody has got to take responsibility to end-of-life these browsers. Why not the so-called gatekeeper to the Internet? IE6 has been in a coma for too long. Pull the plug! These other browsers aren't far behind, but developers and users simply aren't moving from them fast enough. According to Net Applications, IE7 had 7.04 percent browser usage share in May, for a sixth ranking. It's time to move to IE8 or IE9, people! Firefox 3.5 and Safari 3 have minuscule share, which is enough reason to send them to the browser afterlife -- where they might reincarnate in six or eight weeks as a new alpha build.

"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," Venkat Panchapakesan, Google vice president of engineering, writes in a blog post today. If you don't use these Google services, dropped support won't make much difference. Unless other websites follow Google's lead, which is a good idea.

Google sees these older browsers as holding back the web's development. "For example, desktop notifications for Gmail and drag-and-drop file upload in Google Docs require advanced browsers that support HTML5," Panchapakesan explains. "Older browsers just don't have the chops to provide you with the same high-quality experience."

But there's a downside to Google's browser support plan, for which the company and its competitors share responsibility, and that stems from the new-fire development schedules. "Beginning August 1st, we'll support the current and prior major release of Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari on a rolling basis," Panchapakesan writes. "Each time a new version is released, we'll begin supporting the update and stop supporting the third-oldest version."

That also means that Google will stop supporting older browsers every few months. For example, the current Chrome version is 11, but version 12 already is beta testing. When the new browser releases, according to the plan Panchapakesan announces, Google should stop supporting Chrome 10, which only released in March. Internet Explorer 7 may be geezing, but Chrome 10 is just a child! Welcome to "Logan's Run."

Editor's Note: Photo still is from 1976 film version of "Logan's Run." A remake is planned for 2012 release.

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