Google phases out IE6 support

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Google has started phasing out support for Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 (IE6), following a hacking attempt that exploited an IE6 vulnerability, despite the flaw being fixed promptly.

From March 1 on, some services, such as Google Docs, will not work "properly" when accessed from the browser. Google recommends that both firms and end-users upgrade "as soon as possible". Google now only officially supports Internet Explorer 7+, Firefox 3+, Chrome 4+ and Safari 3+.

Hackers exploited a weak spot in Internet Explorer to find the contents of Gmail accounts of human rights activists in China. Following this, both the French and German governments advised that users should switch to a different browser until the flaw had been plugged.

Microsoft issued a patch quickly after the revelations, pushing out a scheduled update just under three weeks earlier than they had scheduled. The software giant normally issues updates once a month, but the high press coverage led it to run an unscheduled update. However, Microsoft admitted that they knew about the problem "since early September", and were planning to patch it in February, leaving the hole open for five months.

​The web has evolved in the last ten years, from simple text pages to rich, interactive applications including video and voice.

—Rajen Sheth, Google employee

Rajen Sheth, the Senior Product Manager for Google Apps, said in a blog post that the web had "evolved in the last ten years, from simple text pages to rich, interactive applications including video and voice", and that "very old browsers cannot run many [...] new features".

20% of users still use the browser, released in August 2001 in order to complement the then-new Windows XP operating system, including many governments. Microsoft will support the browser until 2014, although the browser has attracted strong criticism among people in the web industry.

The bad publicity garnered from the attacks has allowed rivals, such as Mozilla Firefox and Google's own browser, Chrome, to gain market share, allowing the open-source Firefox, of which a new version (3.6) has just been released, to claw a 40% share, close to overtaking Microsoft's 45%.

Last July, Google also dropped IE6 support from the popular video sharing site, YouTube. Popular sites, such as Facebook and Digg, have also dropped support. IE6 does not support several key technologies, making compatible web-design hard to do. For example, it does not render partial transparency in png images, and many site designers must work around the fact that Internet Explorer 6 does not support many important parts of the cascading style sheets (CSS) family of standards, which is how the majority of websites are designed.