It's time to lower the ax on obsolete browsers

Google is phasing out support for older versions of Firefox, IE, and Safari. It's time more Web developers did the same

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And if Microsoft talking about Web standards sounds hypocritical, it's because you haven't been paying attention. Internet Explorer 8 and 9 both made impressive strides in support for Web standards, to the extent that many sites now render identically on IE and competing browsers.

Redmond has another incentive to encourage users to upgrade their browsers: JavaScript performance. As Web applications such as the Office Web Apps become more central to Microsoft's strategy, the ability to execute client-side code quickly is essential. To that end, Internet Explorer has engaged in a furious JavaScript performance race with Chrome, Firefox, and others.

In fact, if at one time Microsoft was the enemy of open Web standards, today it has seemingly done an about-face. Last week it demonstrated apps built with new UI tools for Windows 8, which the software giant says are based on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. That led some developers to worry that Microsoft might actually be downplaying its proprietary technologies, such as Windows Forms and Silverlight, in favor of Web standards.

All together now
Such concern may be premature, but the message is clear: In the age of cross-platform cloud computing, client-side development is moving away from such outmoded techniques as ActiveX controls and browser-specific code, toward a more uniform approach based on open Web standards.

Some companies will continue to argue that they cannot upgrade to a newer version of Internet Explorer because their custom applications don't support it. Increasingly, however, these companies will have to weigh the value of maintaining a few aging bespoke apps versus the value of migrating on-premise IT resources to cloud services such as Gmail and Google Docs. When a company's competitive advantage starts to suffer, it can be startling how quickly the impossible becomes possible.

Web apps that are designed to run on modern browsers are faster, more feature-rich, and more secure. As the Google Apps team notes on its blog, "these new browsers are more than just a modern convenience, they are a necessity for what the future holds."

Furthermore, when Web developers aren't forced to test their code against multiple generations of obsolete browsers, not only does the overall cost of developing an application shrink dramatically, but the resulting standards-based UIs are more future-proof, which lowers the cost of ongoing maintenance. Companies that feel trapped by IE6 need never be stuck in a similar hole again.

That's why Web developers everywhere should see Google's new policy as an opportunity, not merely to educate clients about browser standards, but to actively push to abandon support for obsolete browsers. We already know the alternative, because we live with it every day. So if not now, when?

This article, "It's time to lower the ax on obsolete browsers," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in programming at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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