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03 June 2011 @ 12:46 pm
Google Apps knows better what browser you can use  

So I just read that Google will only support “modern browsers” starting 2 months from now.

As of August 1st, we will discontinue support for the following browsers and their predecessors: Firefox 3.5, Internet Explorer 7, and Safari 3. In these older browsers you may have trouble using certain features in Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs and Google Sites, and eventually these apps may stop working entirely.

Given the importance of Google, the impact is huge. This company has acquired the power to basically dictate what browser you can provide to your users - otherwise they won’t be able to access what many of them now consider vital functionality.

Such a decision denotes a grave misunderstanding of the workstation ecosystem from the Google people. It means they consider their only target to be nerdy users with home computers they can (and want to) upgrade and break every 3 months with the latest version of Windows or Fedora. What about corporate computers? What about non-techy people who buy a computer and stick with the OS that was sold with it for 4 years? I’m afraid they are still the vast majority of web users. You can’t decide to deploy a new version of IE of Firefox on a large number of computers for next month. Sometimes, this is not even possible (hello Windows 2000/XP users).

For Debian squeeze, this means no more Firefox for you. Epiphany and Konqueror might still work, but Google loves sending JavaScript that make old versions of Webkit struggle. And anyway, this is just the beginning. In a few months they will tell us to upgrade again to Firefox 4.2 and IE 12. One week after their release, yeah!

Let’s quote a comment which should help understanding the reasoning behind such decisions.

Andy, while I understand staying on LTS, I think it's a little bit silly to use a mission critical machine for web browsing in that way. Also, there is no reason your browser has to be tied in lockstep to your OS.

Two simple solutions:
1. Don't use the built-in browser for your main web browsing. Install Chrome, for example. or,
2. Since LTS is designed for servers and other "can't have any chance of downtime" machines, quit using that machine as your web browsing box and use a personal laptop for such things, which you can keep up to date with the current OS release instead of waiting 2 years.

Belief #1: “the browser can (and should) be independent from the OS”. It’s interesting to note that the same people who say this are the ones who also jerk off at the idea of desktops and phones with tight web integration. This integration comes at a cost: this restricts your ability to change everything in the browser from one day to another.

Belief #2: “long-term OSes are for mission-critical servers only”. Yeah sure, that’s why Windows has a lifecycle of 3 years. Desktops are no different at all from servers on this matter. You don’t upgrade your desktop every 6 months when you do serious work with it; the cost and the risk are just too high. And anyway, this comes again from the same people who want to upgrade every single component of said mission-critical servers every 2 months to install the latest version of their preferred web framework.

Belief #3: “people can upgrade their browsers or OSes”. No really they can’t. Many people wouldn’t know how to do this, even with a step-by-step documentation. And in enterprise deployments, they are restricted from doing so.

Thanks for spreading the cliché that web developers are clueless, spotty nerds, incapable of understanding the needs of production environments. Apparently Google is not exempt from this disease.

 
 
( 57 comments )
(Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 11:15 am (UTC)
I couldn't agree more
Google's whole approach with chrome has always smacked of the web "this is our territory we can update it whenever and however we like" even though it's installed on someone's personal machine.

In other annoying google-bad-engineering-decisions, did you know it's not really possible to use Google Website Optimizer and emit valid xhtml?
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Amayitaamayita on June 3rd, 2011 12:17 pm (UTC)
Amen
Amen, Rhonda.
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Amayitaamayita on June 7th, 2011 06:44 am (UTC)
Re: Amen
Erm, I meant "Amen, joss" :)
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(Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 12:35 pm (UTC)
Belief #1
Setting aside your contrast with Google's position with web integration, which isn't particularly relevant:

The latest version of Iceweasel in Squeeze is 3.5.16-7. I don't even believe that this incorporates the latest upstream security updates, but in fairness they're currently in wheezy; I'm also willing to be corrected if I'm wrong on this. Unfortunately I don't seem able to access the changelog at the moment, so credibly some security fixes have been backported. Even if this is the case, I'd guess that there's, at best, a lag between Firefox fixes and Iceweasel fixes, but again I'm willing to be corrected.

More importantly, support for this version has been, well, if not unofficial, then at least unassured. It was supposed to be retired sometime last September, and now really does seem to have come to an end. It should be noted that 3.5.19 still included some rather critical fixes.

Whether or not the browser should be independent from the OS, there's certainly an issue with LTS releases and browser development cycles, which is all the more important given that browser releases often are concerned with security and stability issues, and given that browsers, unsurprisingly, are both a major part of the average user's day and a major vector for security issues.

While I'd disagree with the idea that the OS (and distribution and packaging and so on) should be divorced from the browser, it's not unreasonable to suggest that there does need to be a bit more give on this issue.

Of course, there's an argument for almost every package, particularly on Debian that prides itself on LTS releases being stable, so it's hard to judge whether this case is really special. Nevertheless I don't think it's trivial to dismiss either.

I'd be interested how many LTS users are 'special-casing' Iceweasel/Firefox or their browser of choice because of these, or other, issues; that is installing later versions by one way or another.
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np237np237 on June 3rd, 2011 12:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Belief #1
I still have to see a real argument as to why web browsers should be special-cased.

Why would I absolutely need a new version of a web browser and not a a new version if an email client or an office suite?

Do you have any idea how disruptive it is to introduce a new major version of such a large component, with so many reverse dependencies, in a stable distribution?
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Re: Belief #1 - (Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 01:07 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Belief #1 - (Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 01:11 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Belief #1 - np237 on June 3rd, 2011 01:13 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Belief #1 - (Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 01:16 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Belief #1 - np237 on June 3rd, 2011 01:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Belief #1 - (Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 01:27 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Belief #1 - (Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 02:35 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Belief #1 - thumperward on June 3rd, 2011 01:11 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Belief #1 - np237 on June 3rd, 2011 01:15 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Belief #1 - thumperward on June 3rd, 2011 01:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 01:34 pm (UTC)
about time
oh c'mon! IE7 came out six year ago and is a steaming pile of crap, backporting bits to it is not just PITA, it also looks crap.

safari 3 came out 4 years ago and does not have a modern javascript engine underneath which means it might come to stall when working with google spreadsheets.

firefox 3.5 is the youngest one, still 2 years old and self-updating since version who-know-which and about to spew the fifth version quite soon.

so i'd say you are going hyperbolic on this with the "OMG 2 MONTHS AFTER RELEASE"

the world has become much more agile these days when it comes to software.

sure, sometimes it looks like gnome 3, and sure, sometimes some happen to work in companies that still use software from the eighties and keep their calendars well before year 2k to avoid the high risk of finding out you are sitting on a steaming pile.
oh and yeah, perhaps it's time for debian to get up to speed too, eh?
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np237np237 on June 3rd, 2011 01:45 pm (UTC)
Re: about time
Thanks for being such a brillant example of the behavior I described.

I also hope that Debian gets up to speed too. I’d like to see a 3-year release cycle with 5 years of support, the current 2-year cycle is much too short.
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Re: about time - (Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 02:22 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 02:06 pm (UTC)
The rolling support window they propose is rather short-sighted and obnoxious; it makes sense only in the case of IE, as it lets them discontinue support for v7, which is indeed a steaming pile.

But Firefox 3.5? Is that browser so slow and lacking on features that it can't be supported? Hardly--a little slowness as compared to v4 is no reason to discontinue support for it. This becomes especially true when major versions start coming out every four or five months, effectively reducing your support window to software that is less than a year old!

Now, that being said....

Your point that corporate workstations and technically-unsavvy users' PCs is absolutely valid, but how is it that this kind of thing came to be? Haven't web developers been complaining for years how we want old, crappy browsers to get kicked to the curb? And why hasn't it happened? Because as long as major vendors continue to support old browsers, they will never stopped being used.

So, Google drawing the line in the sand and forcing people/departments to update their browsers? Good.

Google deciding on a laughably-small rolling support window? Very, very dumb.
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Damon Lynchdamonlynch on June 3rd, 2011 02:51 pm (UTC)
I support Google's decision
We are well past the point where a desktop PC is a primarily self-contained unit that networks with other machines and exchanges information.

A web browser is not like an email program, or a word processor -- it is a mechanism in which to run web applications. These applications are becoming increasingly important. They can be exceptionally useful.

We need desktop systems where the browser can easily be updated in a safe manner and very-easy-for-the-user manner. Google has got it right with their silently-updating browser, and it is no surprise Mozilla is heading in their direction.

If this means that Debian needs to rethink core policies regarding the web browser on a long term release, then I have total confidence that the developers very much capable of coming up with an elegant solution.
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np237np237 on June 3rd, 2011 02:53 pm (UTC)
Re: I support Google's decision
There is no elegant solution. There are only horrible solutions, and even worse solutions.
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Re: I support Google's decision - damonlynch on June 3rd, 2011 02:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: I support Google's decision - np237 on June 3rd, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: I support Google's decision - np237 on June 3rd, 2011 03:07 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: I support Google's decision - damonlynch on June 3rd, 2011 03:08 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: I support Google's decision - np237 on June 3rd, 2011 03:16 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: I support Google's decision - damonlynch on June 3rd, 2011 03:23 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: I support Google's decision - np237 on June 3rd, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 04:58 pm (UTC)
"Belief #3: “people can upgrade their browsers or OSes”. No really they can’t. Many people wouldn’t know how to do this, even with a step-by-step documentation. And in enterprise deployments, they are restricted from doing so."

Debian Stable and Ubuntu LTS aren't the core problem. The real problem is Microsoft took way too long to get from WinXP to Win7, and fundamentally didn't provide users a reason to upgrade. I don't know anyone who isn't a hard core nerd, who upgraded their home machine from WinXP to Win7. The only people who upgraded bought a new machine. They therefor only upgraded versions of IE when Microsoft forced them to. That upgrade cycle stops where Microsft stopped supporting XP with IE. They won't stop using XP when Microsft pulls the plug, they will stop when the hardware dies.

I like Chrome, but I seriously thought about disabling the auto-update the week there were 4 updates to the -stable release. Get a clue Google, a commercial environment help desk can not support a product that is updating a -stable product more than once a month. Frankly they have problems supporting anything more frequent than once every 3 months.

I view the browser upgrade hamster wheel as a move away from a stable environment to one where everything will break continuously.
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(Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 05:08 pm (UTC)
user story
Hi all,
I am sharing as a user. I have been a Comp. user since early 90's and a Net user late 90's, accessing and using Internet since it came to my country (India) '91-'92 . In the beginning the powers that be were insecure and hence the ability to be part of Internet was given to only educational establishments and some private educational organisations as well. This is how I managed to get a toe-hold in accessing Net.

Then came the era of cyber-cafes where me and lot of my friends used the Net for a variety of uses, chatting, IRC, pRon and finding new and interesting software.

In hindsight, till 2001 there wasn't anything great till Mozilla came along with their tabbed browsing interface (or atleast some part of it). Suddenly the possibility of being on multiple pages or/and sites became a possibility. Arguably, the responses from websites was better then in IE. There were no CDN (Content Distribution Networks) and most of the content is/was being outsourced from US. Due to the nature of the networks at our end (last-mile copper) and typical roundabouts take 300ms to ping to server and more, it was nice to be able to have that bit faster access to net. Also found that on most of the sites Mozilla Firefox would not stall or sputter unlike IE and I was hooked to it.

Cut to 2011 and I have atleast 10-15 odd tabs at any one point, a torrent running simultaneously and reading a web page or two. I like sites which auto-update (rather than me hitting refresh) after every couple of minutes/hours etc.

I also love being able to type out a phrase and let whatever search engine I want (google,duckduckgo) whatever able to spew out results.

I do know that both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox do have memory leaks if I keep them open long enough systems become unstable but this is now a necessity rather than luxury.

I do not think I'm the only one either as I see similar behavior exhibited around me.

Lastly, can you also put up google connect, I tried using the openid generated via google but was unsuccessful.
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(Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 05:16 pm (UTC)
Re: user story
Its sorta edit: just saw that its not you but livejournal at fault.

Although they do have it in trunk though, see http://changelog.livejournal.com/10540011.html

dunno when it translates/trickles down to livejournal

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voodoojeanne on June 3rd, 2011 05:50 pm (UTC)
"Production environments" are terrible. "Enterprise deployments" doubly so. I applaud Google for taking a step towards making sure they get fixed.
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np237np237 on June 3rd, 2011 05:52 pm (UTC)
And we have another specimen, yay.

Could you please go back to your zoo?
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - np237 on June 3rd, 2011 08:30 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 09:31 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - np237 on June 3rd, 2011 10:07 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 10:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - np237 on June 4th, 2011 12:47 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 08:37 pm (UTC)
If you dont like this policy of google, then you should not use their products.

I personally use debian squeeze for its underlying stability (wonderful) but have google chrome as my main web browser, it updates automatically like magic (it's the only sofware I installed outside the debian repos).

If you have done any web programming you certainly know how difficult it is to keep a site/service up and running, innovate and keep backward compatibility with older browsers. Google even goes as far as offering a self-updating browser that keeps up with no effort from the user side.

If you are still not happy with that, then dont use google docs and gmail.
You can still use libreoffice and thunderbird if that makes you happy.

As a gmail and google doc user I dont want the service to be hold back becuase people like you want compatibility with 4 years old browsers. Why should I be hold back by you?
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np237np237 on June 3rd, 2011 09:14 pm (UTC)
I don’t use their products, but it’s not that simple.

At work, an important part of our (thousands of) users use Google Apps every day. Soon, this product will stop working with their Windows 2000, Windows XP and Debian etch machines. I’m not really sure about the Vista and Debian squeeze machines. They will want a browser that can access Google Apps and we will simply not be able to provide it without insane efforts.

The same holds for those who maintain web browser packages in Debian. Soon our squeeze users will no longer be able to use Google products, because of a deliberate choice from the Google side. We will not be able to provide them with a suitable browser without compromising the security and stability of their machines.

So yay for Google’s magic self-updating browser. We didn’t have enough packages reinventing package management in utterly wrong ways. After all, why let people who know how to do it correctly when you can write self-updating software?
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 09:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Exactly! - (Anonymous) on June 4th, 2011 03:33 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on June 5th, 2011 08:22 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
I think you misunderstand all of this.
You can't complain that Google are wrong about their target market- they are the ones defining their target market.

It is what they say it is.

If they want to make a product that sits on the cutting edge, who the hell are you to tell them not to?
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(Anonymous) on June 3rd, 2011 09:35 pm (UTC)
Upgrading systems
If your desktop or server systems are so fragile that you cannot upgrade them then that's your problem right there, not anything to do with browsers.

If you can't recreate your system to its current state, then what will you do in a crash?

If software stops running on a new version of an OS, either virtualise or pester the vendor for an upgrade.

I actually find that it's really great to reinstall my system from scratch every six months or so - it stops crap accumulating and stops me relying on a system that I could never recreate because the support has disappeared.

I know I could take my files, install a fresh copy of Fedora and carry on with my business with no problems.
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np237np237 on June 4th, 2011 12:51 am (UTC)
Re: Upgrading systems
It’s not because systems are fragile that you cannot upgrade them. It’s because you don’t upgrade them that they are solid.
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Re: Upgrading systems - (Anonymous) on June 4th, 2011 09:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on June 4th, 2011 08:37 am (UTC)
I don't think I agree with much of this criticism.

1) From the enterprise perspective, either your enterprise will use Google Apps or it won't. If it does then providing a Google Apps capable browser is unlikely to be hard. Worse case scenario is providing Chrome.

2) Arguing that a website should not place (reasonable) requirements on a web browser because a desktop environment (ie GNOME 3) is (apparently) dependant on a particular browser deployment seems insane. In what world does it make sense to think it's reasonable for a desktop environment to be tied to a particular web browser version while asserting it's unreasonable for actual web based offerings to have requirements?
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(Anonymous) on June 4th, 2011 07:56 pm (UTC)
"For Debian squeeze, this means no more Firefox for you. Epiphany and Konqueror might still work"

No, it won't, not at least Konqueror, because Gmail already doesn't work properly on Konqueror.
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RicardoXenGi_ on June 6th, 2011 06:21 pm (UTC)
Google is not god
If Google forces me to use another browser, I will simply don't use Google. Easy decision. There are alternatives for every single service Google provides.
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(Anonymous) on June 8th, 2011 08:32 am (UTC)
Missing Google's Point
I think you're missing Google's point completely. The ultimate goal should be to get rid of locally managed terminals that require OS versions, application versions, library version to be supported on a potentially wide array of installations. Their whole mission is to make people who manage "multiple thousands of systems" in a complex environment largely redundant simply because there are technologically superior ways of safeguarding the same principles those people were hired to safeguard.

You are absolutely right about the complexity involved with maintaining a properly functioning working environment, and it just goes to show that the sooner we have something that can get rid of this inherent difficulty the better. To that end, Google is using it's broad reach to coerce "legacy" environments into getting with the program. The sooner everyone is running browsers (or more generically "application environments") that support auto-update, the sooner your problem will be solved.

Thanks for spreading the cliche that system administrators are clueless, spotty nerds, incapable of grasping the benefits of them relinquishing control of their precious infrastructure. Apparently re-schooling oneself to find ones place in an obviously already decided upon future is too much to ask.

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np237np237 on June 8th, 2011 08:39 am (UTC)
Re: Missing Google's Point
It’s funny how some people think they have solutions that work for everything.

That is, until they are faced with reality, of course.
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(Anonymous) on June 23rd, 2011 11:44 pm (UTC)
Security first
what the author of the blog doesnt appreciate is that old browsers are insecure (firefox 3.5 is discontinued, that means no mor patches).
so i whole heartedly agree with google why should it have to supported old insecure browsers, by doing this it gives people an incentive to stay updated and stay secure.

i mean really safari and internet explorer are dying browsers anyway, chrome and firefox are the open source kings.

as far as im concerned companies shouldnt really want to make things comfortable for non-oss browsers such as IE or Opera
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np237np237 on June 28th, 2011 09:23 am (UTC)
Re: Security first
Browsers in stable Linux distribution releases have full security support for the lifetime of the said distribution.

This argument only holds for IE6.
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