Still use Windows XP? If you do, Google has a nasty surprise for you. Starting in mid-November, it will no longer support Internet Explorer 8, the newest version of Microsoft’s browser that is compatible with the aging XP.
No support means that if you use it to access some Google apps and services you'll get a message suggesting you upgrade your browser. At some point – exactly when isn't clear – those services simply won’t work when accessed by IE8.
Important apps like Google calendar and Gmail may well stop working as well.
Google made the announcement quietly on Friday, posting a two paragraph statement on its Google Apps blog, a terse post that didn’t answer many questions. Google explains the end of IE8 support this way: "We support the latest version of Google Chrome (which automatically updates whenever it detects that a new version of the browser is available) as well as the current and prior major release of Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari on a rolling basis. Each time a new version of one of these browsers is released, we begin supporting the update and stop supporting the third-oldest version." And since IE10 launches in late October, it's sayonara IE8 on November 15.
The new policy is a non-issue to those of us who stopped using IE8 and Windows XP years ago. But lots of businesses and consumers with older hardware still use the venerable pair. IE9 does not run on Windows XP.
What about Mozilla’s Firefox? That's a bit complicated. The latest versions of Firefox will only run on versions of Windows XP that includes service pack 3. If your operating system does include that service pack you can look for an older version of Firefox. I did a quick search and found a site called oldapps.com that has a collection of old versions of Firefox. Mozilla has an ftp site that has older versions as well. One caveat: I can't vouch for the quality or safety of files on the oldapps site, so be sure to have an anti-malware package running if you download from it.
Obviously the simplest answer is to upgrade Windows. XP was a fine OS in its day, but Windows 7 -- skip Vista, of course, and I’m not enthused about Windows 8 -- is far superior and you'll be able to run any browser you like. However, I understand that not every business and every consumer is free to make the switch.
So is it appropriate to be mad at Google for pulling the plug? I don’t think so, though it's certainly understandable. Burdening software with requirements of backward compatibility becomes counterproductive after a while.