Google has announced a major new policy on supporting browsers including Chrome. From now on, they will only guarantee Google Apps support and compatibilty for the current version of any browser and its immediate predecessor. That means that with immediate effect Google has declared Internet Explorer 6 and 7, Firefox 3.5 and Safari 3 to be obsolete and will no longer even attempt to ensure that Google Apps (including GMail) will run correctly in these browsers. The Google announcement makes no mention of Opera.


This comes as Microsoft is making attempts to wean its remaining IE6 users away from this old and (by now) highly insecure browser : for details see this document, "Microsoft Wants To Phase Out IE6 - Please Upgrade For Your Security, Regardless of Your Choice of Default Browser". Internet Explorer 6 is still in use on more than 10% of all PCs (although according to Microsoft that figure is distorted by IE6's popularity in China); IE7 has 7% of the market. Firefox 3.5 has only 1.4%, but that's still about 12 milliion users; almost the same number are using a previous Firefox version (and as many are running an older IE version). Mozilla intends to push Firefox 3.5 users into a more recent version sometime this month through an automatic update; support for 3.5 has already been ended. But with Firefox 5 due to be rolled out on the 21st of June, Google are clearly indicating that as far as they are concerned Firefox 3.6 is also another obsolete browser version.


(There's a breakdown of browser market shares at WinCert, for anyone who's interested in this sort of thing. Nice graphics, only slightly spoiled by an admission at the bottom of the page that there are two sets of figures available which give markedly different outcomes for the different browsers.)


Google's announcement has major implications for everyone using Microsoft XP. The latest version of Internet Explorer which will run under XP is IE8; IE9 is restricted to Windows Vista and Windows 7 users. With the arrival of Windows 8 imminent, and talk of Windows 9 and IE10, the writing is on the wall for Google Apps support for IE8. When that day arrives, XP users will be faced with a situation where Microsoft is still (for now) supporting an operating system which has a huge share of the market, but which may - or may not - run Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs and Google Sites. As the Google blog notes,

... eventually these apps may stop working entirely.


Will Google kill off XP? Not immediately. The only application which would impact most users is probably GMail, and there are other webmail services which could be used. And if an XP user is accessing emails through Outlook or Outlook Express, there won't be much of a problem because there won't be a need to use the GMail interface directly. But it's another indication that XP users should be thinking about upgrading to Windows7 (if the usual Microsoft product-release pattern holds Windows 8 will be a turkey, rather like Vista. Miss Windows 7 and you should probably wait for Windows 9).