Google Ends Support for IE 6

Microsoft's Web browser was exploited for attacks on Google

Support for Internet Explorer 6 appears to be dwindling after Microsoft's Web browser was exploited for well-publicized attacks on Google and other companies.

Last week, Google encouraged users to update their browsers "as soon as possible." The company plans to phase out support for IE 6 on March 1, which means that some IE 6 features won't work on Google Docs and Google Sites, the company explained in a blog post.

"Like many other companies, including Microsoft, we'd like people to upgrade to modern browsers so that we can continue using the latest Web technologies to bring new, innovative features to our users," noted a Google spokesperson by e-mail. "We encourage users to upgrade to a newer version of their preferred browser, whether that be Internet Explorer, Firefox, or any other browser."

A Microsoft spokesperson stated that Microsoft has consistently recommended that consumers upgrade to the latest version of its browser. Companies, on the other hand, may have technical reasons why they have difficulty upgrading. For instance, they may have brittle legacy apps based on an earlier browser version.

"Internet Explorer 8 offers improvements in speed, security, and reliability as well as new features designed for the way people use the Web," said a Microsoft spokesperson by e-mail.  "While we recommend Internet Explorer 8 to all customers, we understand we have a number of corporate customers for whom broad deployment of new technologies across their desktops requires more planning."

On January 21, Microsoft released a security bulletin (MS10-002) to address eight vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer. The cumulative update included a fix for the remote code execution vulnerability reported in security advisory 979352 that was associated with the attacks on Google.

Web developers have long complained about having to code their sites for IE 6 because the browser is still widely used. The eight-year-old IE 6 typically has been derided as a non-standards-compliant browser among Web developers and other browser makers. Users of IE 6 not only face security vulnerabilities, but they may also start to see limitations in usability, particularly with regard to video and audio.

A general shift away from IE 6 appears to be happening. In January, IE 8 succeeded IE 6 as the "most used" browser, according to Net Applications. Mozilla Firefox was next, in third position, followed by IE 7, Google Chrome, and Apple Safari.

Although Google is free to drop support for IE 6, Microsoft is bound by its Windows support agreements (Microsoft considers Internet Explorer to be a "feature" of Windows). Support for Internet Explorer follows the lifecycle of the operating system with which it was shipped, a Microsoft spokesperson noted in an e-mail. IE 6 began shipping with Windows XP in August of 2001.

Windows XP users will have to transition to Service Pack 3 by July 2010 to be eligible for IE 6 support, which will expire on April 2014, according to a Microsoft statement.

Google recommends that users of Google Docs and Google Sites update their browsers to IE 7.0+, Mozilla Firefox 3.0+, Google Chrome 4.0+, or Safari 3.0+. A Google spokesperson noted that the Opera browser was not recommended because it is not a "supported browser" for Google's applications.

About the Author

Herb Torrens is an award-winning freelance writer based in Southern California. He managed the MCSP program for a leading computer telephony integrator for more than five years and has worked with numerous solution providers including HP/Compaq, Nortel, and Microsoft in all forms of media.

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