Google to phase out IE6 support – first shots in their war for browser dominance?

ielogoI really dislike IE6.  I hate having to support it for some of my clients, and really wish they could work out how to convince their customers to upgrade.  But, my clients are real world guys; they deal with nuts and bolts, ironmongery, bank accounts, etc.  Their customers tend to be real world people as well – and by real world I mean not software, not media, not technology companies.

I have a client whose website gets 30% of it’s hits from people running IE6.  That’s right.  30%.  That’s three times higher than the average accoridng to these statistics here – – where in December 2009 about 10% of browsers are still IE6.  From my own experiences, these tend to be large corporate sites where machines are ‘locked down’ or smaller non-technical companies who don’t care what browsers their PCs run as long as they can access everything they need to do.

Anyway…Google have finally announced that some features of Google Docs and other applications will soon stop working with IE6.  Actually, for once we have a technology company that has delivered ahead of the announcement.  Some Google products already fail big time with IE6..and 7…and IE8.  Google Wave is a non-starter with IE at all.  It isn’t just ‘some features’ or a ‘reduced user experience’.  In my experience it’s a big fat ‘no user experience’ at all.

Here’s what I expect Google to do over the next few months.  After IE6, the pressure will be placed on IE7 and IE8.  Google will probably suggest that people move to the Chrome plugin for using their sites in IE, and then I’d expect a mysterious problem to emerge with using the plugin in IE, so that more pressure is placed on IE users of Google sites to drop IE for Chrome (or at this time another browser).  Of course, not all IE users will be bothered about not having access to Google applications; but Google’s applications are rapidly becoming the main game in town for online apps – a very unhealthy situation.  Microsoft were hag-ridden for years by various regulatory authorities about their efforts to command the desk top by all means available to them.  Google appear to be starting to do exactly the same thing.

Of course, there are other browsers that are more standards compliant than IE is, was or is ever likely to be.  And this is the core of Google’s current argument – that IE’s non-standard handling of certain elements of the HTML, CSS and JavaScript standards makes it impossible to properly support IE.  Google’s products make extensive use of a protocol called AJAX to provide a desktop style user interface experience; it’s strange that other companies producing AJAX style interfaces are able to make them run happily with IE (albeit with a few tweaks occasionally required to layout).  My conclusions at this stage would be that either Google hasn’t got the brainiest guys on the block as far as coding is concerned, and/or that they’re using their market muscle to start dictating their way to a situation in which they own the web ‘desktop’.

After IE, what next? Firefox, Opera and Safari aficionados should be reminded of John Donne’s famous quote at this point:

Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

All Google need to do is start defining their own standards, or push implementation of emerging standards in their products so that only their own browser, Chrome, will be ready to cope.  Look at any areas of weakness in other browsers, and code your application to include code that would deliberately break when used on that ‘target’ browser.  No browser is 100% compliant; Google need to force each browser manufacturer in to a cycle of fail and fix, whilst each time Chrome is available from Zero Day to work perfectly on Google’s applications.

Microsoft have been bad lads in the past; there’s no reason for Google to start angling for the same accolades.  However, if they do, I’ll be interested to see whether the folks who’ve rightly been hard on MS will be equally hard on Google.  And if not, why not?

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