What dropping support for older browsers tells us about Google Apps

Google has announced that for Google Apps, it's dropping support of older browsers. Only the current and previous versions of IE, Firefox, Safari, and of course Chrome will be supported. After August 1st, Firefox 3.5, Internet Explorer 7, and Safari 3 and older versions will be the first to be dropped.

Clearly, this is going to put some customer IT departments in a bit of a pickle in the near future. The latest version of Internet Explorer, IE9, only runs on Vista and Windows 7. The upcoming version 10 (which has already been shown in a first version, with Microsoft apparently speeding up the release cycle) will only run in Windows 7 and 8. If your enterprise is still on Windows XP (and the latest figures suggest around 60% still do), once IE10 comes out, you're out of luck. And that's probably going to be early next year.

With a disregard for large enterprise deployments that's typical for Google, the company says, "if it’s been a a while since your last update, we encourage you to get the latest version of your favorite browser," and helpfully provides some download links.

It's just that, well, most IT departments try to control their desktops and what's installed on them, since otherwise it's impossible to effectively support and secure them. It's not up to the individual user to just download and install any executable.

So if your enterprise signed up for Google Apps, this may force IT departments into hasty migrations to new versions of Windows. Or they will be forced to install Chrome for everyone instead (quite possibly that's what's lurking beneath Google's rather naive comment above). If so, there's a whole new game of vendor lock-in about to start.

This is probably not the kind of consequences anyone would expect from a collaboration tool that runs "in the cloud" with the interface "in the browser."  It does, though, speak volumes for Google's assumptions about its customer base.

It should serve as a reminder that procuring enterprise solutions is never simple or straightforward, even if at first blush it would seem that way. Which is exactly why our social computing vendor evaluation research around Google isn't a cheerleading flyer -- but fourteen pages of critical analysis. You may want to read it before committing to a "quick win."

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