Google to drop IE6 support in cloud apps

Google has announced plans to phase out IE6 support in Google Apps starting with Docs and Sites — but not because of security considerations
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Search and advertising giant Google is phasing out support for Internet Explorer 6 in its cloud services, starting with Google Docs and Google Sites, from 1 March.

Google announced in a blog post on Friday that from the beginning of March, certain key functionality in Google Docs and Google Sites "would not work properly" with IE6 and older versions of other browsers.

"Please take the time to switch your organisation to the most up-to-date browsers available," said Rajen Sheth, Google Apps senior product manager, in the blog post.

The company is urging Google Apps users to move to IE7, Firefox 3.0, Chrome 4.0 or Safari 3.0, or more recent versions of those browsers. Net Applications put IE6's share of the general browser market in January at about 20 percent, bettered only by IE8 at 22 percent. In April, Forrester Research found that 60 percent of enterprises used IE6 as their default browser.

Google has not specified precisely which Apps functionalities in older browsers will be affected. However, the company said it wants to support HTML 5, the latest version of markup language HTML, which is not supported by older browsers.

"Older browsers were not designed to handle new web-based applications, which means they don't support modern web technologies like HTML 5 and advanced JavaScript processing," a Google spokesperson said. "For example, IE6 doesn't support HTML 5, and IE6 and [Firefox 2] do not process JavaScript nearly as efficiently as newer versions of IE and FF."

The dropping of support means Google will not fix issues specific to older browsers and will not develop new features for them. However, users will still be able to access Google Docs and Sites using the software.

"With Google Docs, we plan on continuing to support view-only mode in IE6, and we will still support viewing of Google Sites in IE6," the company's spokesperson said.

Goggle's phasing out of support for IE6 has nothing to do with the recent security problems Google encountered through IE6 use, according to the spokesperson.

"No, this was already planned and is being done so we can continue using the latest web technologies to bring new, innovative features to our users," the spokesperson said. "We're following other companies that have done the same, like Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft for Office Web Apps."

Earlier this month, Microsoft admitted that Chinese attacks on Google and other companies had exploited a hole in IE6, which was also present in IE7 and IE8.

At the time, the flaw did not have a patch, leading the French and German governments to recommend that users update to the later versions of IE, or switch browsers.

The UK government urged users to update their browsers, but said that switching browsers was unnecessary. Various government departments, including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Department of Health (DoH) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) use IE6 on all desktop and laptop computers.

The DoH issued advice to its users on 21 January saying they should upgrade to IE7. "It is recommended that organisations still using Internet Explorer 6 on the affected platforms upgrade to Internet Explorer 7," it said, in email advice seen by ZDNet UK. Internet Explorer 7 has gone through an internal accreditation process, said the DoH, and as a result has been verified to work correctly within the central NHS system, known as the NHS Spine.

Microsoft released an out-of-band patch for the IE zero-day on 21 January.

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