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When Should You Stop Support for Software? 438

Posted by Cliff
from the limited-resources-and-hard-decisions dept.
hahafaha asks: "I am currently working on a website for a small organization. We (I am not alone in this) have a beta version ready, and are currently testing the site on browsers. We have tried all of the big browsers (Firefox, IE, opera), as well as other browsers, such as lynx, links, w3m and even NetFront. So, when can one decide that they will stop supporting a system. Obviously, going (for example) down to IE 1 is crazy, but is IE 3 crazy? This is not only relevant to web design but to any programming at all. When, for example, can you say that I will *not* support a certain version of Windows. Can you say that now about Windows 98? How about 95?"
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When Should You Stop Support for Software?

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  • Do you use java, javascript, CSS, flash, CGI, etc., or not?

    A pure text website with some graphics can support lynx, whereas a flashier site will require more up to date browsers.
    • by Arker (91948) on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:56PM (#14524158) Homepage
      No, a flashier website will still work just fine on lynx, if it's done competently.
       
      • by jschottm (317343) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:40AM (#14524966)
        Grandparent post:

        Do you use java, javascript, CSS, flash, CGI, etc., or not?

        Your post:

        No, a flashier website will still work just fine on lynx, if it's done competently.

        That's an awful broad statement to make in response to a post that gives five specific examples (some valid, some not). However, grandparent poster did not give sufficient detail, but I'm bored and will give some.

        1. Java. I fail to see how a visually oriented java based website will work "just fine" in lynx, regardless of comptence. Let's take a good example of when to use java - I have a number of server software packages that use java based websites to provide system/software monitoring capability, specifically real-time graphing of various things. Lynx cannot provide that. If I'm in text only mode for whatever reason, I'll monitor the servers using text utilities.

        2. Javascript. Moving into something I've written recently, I have a nice AJAX based based database front-end. It's meant to allow users on Windows, OS X, or Linux to graphically manipulate the database. It does so very nicely according to all of the users. Lynx cannot do what's required for the application. However, again, if I were trying to work the console, there are text based database front-ends. The key is to use the appropriate tool.

        3. CSS. OK, grandparent loses some points on this one, as most things you do with CSS don't affect lynx, in that it simply ignores the CSS and presents the content in plain format.

        4. Flash. I'll assume that the flash content is something that would be useful to the viewer and is, per your statement, "done competently." This eliminates sites that use Flash "incompetently" - doing things like using it for naviation and not providing html links to the same content and so on and so forth. This still leaves us with interactive meida, multimedia presentations, online tutorials that simulate applications, and various front-end software as discussed in points 1 and 2 that's also possible to do in flash. Unless you've convinced lynx to download the flash file and hand it off to flashplayer, none of these will work with lynx.

        5. CGI. I'll give you this one, as whether a website is using CGI or not really doesn't have much effect on whether a page will work on lynx or not. I suppose maybe the poster was getting at the fact that many of the clever CGI programmers these days also integrate java, javascript, or flash into their applications.

        So that gives you two points and grandparent three. I award the belt to him.

        Really, what it comes down to is evaluating who will be using your site, what they're doing, and what their needs and expectations are. Most of what grandparent posted about aren't used in a *needed* way on public websites, but are extremely useful when done correctly. You also need to evaluate what portion of your site is reasonable to have higher requirements for. Are you simply presenting information or pushing the envelope into increased user interaction?

        Google.com works with lynx, while google maps does not. Part of what google maps presents (directions, things near places) *could* be presented in lynx, but you know, doing so would take a very large amount of effort for virtually no payoff. I don't think google stockholders are loosing too much sleep over the issue.

        Similarly, my main website supports and has been tested in IE 5.x for Windows and Mac, IE 6, Mozilla, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Konqueror, Lynx, and Links. It looks virtually identical in all of them, but doing so required some horrible kludges that make the code harder to read and understand.

        On the other hand, my web applications (both internal and for public use) support IE 6, Moz/FireFox, and Safari. The code is clean and simple, and works in all three with the exact same code for the most part - there's very little that's coded based on which browser you're using (obviously, the AJAX calls are different). I could spend time devising wa
        • Let's take a good example of when to use java - I have a number of server software packages that use java based websites to provide system/software monitoring capability, specifically real-time graphing of various things. Lynx cannot provide that.

          You are taking two different things and conflating them here. Lynx cannot provide real-time graphing. The fact that it doesn't support Java is irrelevant; it's perfectly possible to write a website that uses Java when it's available and falls back to altern

          • You are taking two different things and conflating them here. Lynx cannot provide real-time graphing. The fact that it doesn't support Java is irrelevant; it's perfectly possible to write a website that uses Java when it's available and falls back to alternatives when it isn't.

            If that is the goal is to provide real-time graphic monitoring of server software, then there is no lynx based alternative available. If live updates of information are important, the same data CANNOT be provided through lynx, period
    • by Alien54 (180860) on Friday January 20, 2006 @10:06PM (#14524205) Journal
      The automotive industry routinely carries parts for ten years. This ten year horizon has driven computers makers crazy.

      There was an article cited on Slash about the horrors of of this from the design side when automakers brought up their system requirements.

      So from this viewpoint, I would probably go for the ten year boundary on hardware and software, even though many software makers would like it to be as short as possible.

      Heck, Symantec has dropped support for many of their more recent products for a variety of reasons

      • 10 years is FAR too long for software development. You'd either be limiting your functionality, or tip-toeing around bug/quirks of a particular old browser more than making new features.

        The only reason why there's a 10 year requirement for car manufacturers (at least in the US) is a safety issue-- you wouldn't want 10 year old cars rolling around on bad brakes due to parts being unavailable, would you?

        • Disclaimer: Writing this after coming home from the bar and randomly having a look at slashdot

          10 years is FAR too long for software development.

          I'd disagree. I regularly write code in a language invented 20+ years ago for an interface defined 20+ years ago, using principles defined over a hundred years ago.

          You'd either be limiting your functionality

          Do you mean functionality, or do you mean "shiny things"?

          particular old browser

          What has writing HTML to do with software development? That as

    • The gold standard in this case is to find out what browsers your clients are using at home and in the office. Then be sure that all those work flawlessly.

      --
      Yes. I'm cynical, aren't you.
    • by LostBurner (916484) on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:24PM (#14524517)
      Since when can the first post be modded 20% redundant?
    • IMHO, what it really depends on boils down to two things:
      1. Is it worth the time to develop it for release? (Return on investment, factoring in goodwill and brand loyalty, etc.)
      2. Would it be a support nightmare after release? (If you can't reproduce problems, you can't fix/mitigate them very well, and the customers may end up being more frustrated than if you'd just told them "Sorry, use Firefox".)
  • Depends... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ndogg (158021) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nrohr.eht]> on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:33PM (#14524026) Homepage Journal
    Depends on if you consider x% of the interweb population to be valuable to your business.
    • Re:Depends... (Score:5, Informative)

      by BasilBrush (643681) on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:48PM (#14524108)
      Indeed. In fact to pad that out further, go here (or a similar stats site) and read off the percentage of users that you want to reach. http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.a sp [w3schools.com]

      If you're happy for just 61% to be able to use it, then just support I.E.6.
      If you want to hit 85%, then you better support Firefox too.
      If you want to bump that up to 90% support I.E.5 as well.
      If you want to mop up some of the last 10%, then support Netscape, Opera etc.
      • Re:Depends... (Score:5, Informative)

        by FuzzyBad-Mofo (184327) * <fuzzybad@gmail.cBALDWINom minus author> on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:55AM (#14524990)

        The web is different from the notion of traditional software because of the possibility for graceful degradation. When I write standards-compliant pages that look great in modern browsers, they also degrade so that older or limited browsers are still able to use the site, albeit without the exact same presentation.

        As a professional web developer, I target all current browsers for identical rendering (or at least very similar). This includes Firefox 1.5, Safari 2, Opera 8, IE 6. For previous-generation browsers such as Firefox 1.0, IE 5.5, and Opera 7 an effort is made to achieve identical rendering, but this is secondary. Some variance is tolerated, but major rendering issues must be fixed. Going back even further to Pre-1.0 Firefox, IE 5, and IE 5 Mac even more variance is tolerated, and by the time we get to Netscape 4.x I'm pretty comfortable with simply showing them an unstyled page.

        Really, there is a formula which can represent the browser support for a project, and it's simply not worth spending much time fixing sites for minority browsers which have been discontinued. Of course, if support for a particular browser is requested by the client then I am happy to oblige. But they don't usually want to pay extra for that service, and for good reason. The web has moved on from HTML 3.2, and there are simply too many benefits to developing with XHTML+CSS to ignore.

    • Re:Depends... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by unoengborg (209251) on Friday January 20, 2006 @10:23PM (#14524280) Homepage
      It is not as simple as just look at the percentage of users that use a certain browser.

      The choise of browser also is an indication whether the user is likely to buy something or not, at least if you sell software or some other computer related thing

      A user that still runs IE3 may be less likely to change things, or buy anything new than a user that runs the latest version of IE or even have shown enough initiative to upgrade to Firefox or Opera.

      So 10% user share for Firefox, would likely be of more business value than 10% IE5 users.
    • Re:Depends... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Just Some Guy (3352)
      Depends on if you consider x% of the interweb population to be valuable to your business.

      Someone who is using Netscape 4 (as an example) is either 1) too broke to afford a machine that can run newer versions, or 2) technophobic, or 3) determined to make the world bend to their will. How much money do you want to spend herding any of those three to your website, assuming you're in a high-tech business?

      Now, if you sell tractor parts, then you have a legitimate point. If you're selling music downloads or

    • Crazy idea! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by theLOUDroom (556455) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:30AM (#14524934)
      Here's a crazy idea:

      Instead of coding for specfic browsers, write valid code!

      That was the whole intent of the web in the first place.

      I always find it ridiculous when a website talks about what browsers it "supports." Websites should not be browser-specfic.
      Also:
      USE AS FEW FEATURES AS POSSIBLE.

      I can't count how many times I've seen things that could have been done in simple HTML, done instead in flash, java, javascript, activex, etc. The more different technologies you use, the more you'll get screwed up by subtle glitches in their implementation.
      In short, pick a handful of good technologies and implement them properly. Support users by pointing them to software that is not broken.
      • Re:Crazy idea! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by MoonBuggy (611105) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @08:28AM (#14525861) Journal
        Instead of coding for specfic browsers, write valid code!
        USE AS FEW FEATURES AS POSSIBLE.

        That's hardly an an answer to what the parent was asking. Good general advice, but not an answer. If you write a fairly simple page using valid HTML and CSS, it will almost definitely display correctly in up to date versions of Firefox, Opera and Konqueror/Safari. It should display correctly in IE6 too, but in my experience IE has worse rendering of completely valid code than Firefox overall, so it might need a few tweaks (while still remaining valid). IE5 has its own set of quirks with CSS, meaning more tweaks again. Lynx should be fine as long as you've got your content and your style data properly separated. When you start moving down into Netscape 4 and IE3 you're talking major reworking just to ensure it doesn't render vital bits of text at a location of -3000px or anything equally strange. Writing valid but more advanced CSS just compounds the problem - even Firefox and Opera start showing their differences there. Valid code is a good start, but it doesn't excuse you from the decision of which browsers you want to support.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    For example - Slashdot gave up links support when they added captchas.
  • That is what I see. When the vendor drops support - and that can range from normal EOL to extended contract based EOL - it is time to stick a fork in it. Sadly, it looks like I get to keep a copy of Solaris 8 running for a few more years....
  • This is Easy... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by barfy (256323) on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:33PM (#14524032)
    Whenever the cost of supporting the customers that comes from supporting those customers, exceeds the benefits of satisfying those customers.

    The trick is determining the costs and benefits. But often it is not that hard.
    • Re:This is Easy... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob@hotmail.cOPENBSDom minus bsd> on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:51PM (#14524128) Journal
      Whenever the cost of supporting the customers that comes from supporting those customers, exceeds the benefits of satisfying those customers.

      You don't ever stop supporting your customers. You just switch to paid support after your warranty or contracted support period has expired.

      I'm still supporting the first commercial software I ever wrote (a refrigerator controller for a meat packing company) because it still does the job I originally wrote it for, and the company using it occasionally pays me to port it to newer hardware. I'm not making a loss, and it's not a huge money spinner for me, but I'll continue supporting it because it's mine.
      • Re:This is Easy... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by inoyb (30257) on Friday January 20, 2006 @10:39PM (#14524352)
        You don't ever stop supporting your customers. You just switch to paid support after your warranty or contracted support period has expired.

        I'll disagree with this. The company I work for recently stopped support for some software we wrote in 1999. We provided more than 2 years notice, and a reasonable upgrade path.

        Our entire code base was rewritten in 2000 and once again in 2005. Supporting 3 different code bases is not practical.

        First of all, for front line support people, have them trained on 3 different products is simply not practical.(While the 3 pieces of software are similar in general functionality, they're are significant differences in how the achieve that functionality.)

        More importantly, the number of developers that are familiar with the original code base is small. And these are the most senior developers and having them spend the their time looking at the old case base is not a productive use of their time.

        I suppose we could have offered a support contract to the customers of the older version that represented the realistic cost of what it would be to support the older code base. But, the number would have been ridiculously high and would probably be seen as quite insulting by the customer.

        It made more sense to announce the sunset of the product with a large amount of advance notice, and provide a reasonable upgrade path.

  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:34PM (#14524033)
    That's a business decision, not your's.

    If the company is willing to pay you to support old browsers/OS's because the company is getting something out of the clients with those browsers/OS's, then that is their concern.
    • That's shortsighted. He'll spend more time explaining the difficulties/benefits of compatability than the benefits the company will get.

      It's likely that the article writer understands the problem better then 'the business' (even though he is asking for feedback).
      • Put the question into teeny little words.

        "It will require 33% more hours to develop and test for obsolete web browsers, which represent for 3% of our traffic. Are you willing to pay for that?"

        (Hopefully you have access to logs from their current web page?)
      • That's shortsighted. He'll spend more time explaining the difficulties/benefits of compatability than the benefits the company will get.

        I don't know how many times I've gotten a geeky project OK'ed by virtue of spending the time to cost it out so that I could show we'd either make money or not. The key to being a successful geek, I think, is trusting your own intuitions far enough to challenge them by testing them against other people's goals. If you can't do that, then you're stuck in the back corner of

  • If you need to make money... and support is an expense... stop supporting unprofitable software!

    Now try to figure out when it is unprofitable - figuring in ill-will, etc.

    If cost is no consideration, you wouldn't be asking the question.

  • by mveloso (325617) on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:35PM (#14524041)
    If you're looking for a baseline that may be acceptable for customers, you could just use the browser vendor's support matrix. If the vendor doesn't support it (IE 2.0), it'll be difficult for you to support it.

    Realistically speaking, it depends on your target audience. It's probably safe to ignore IE5 and older versions of Netscape, because your customers probably can update to newer versions, even on older OS versions.
    • by zerocool^ (112121) on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:50PM (#14524115) Homepage Journal

      Yeah, what happened to "Degrade Gracefully".

      I mean, if you're entire business is a web app which requires CSS and modern javascript... then support what you need to support. I'd personally support firefox 1.0+, netscape 6.0+, IE 5.5+. That will encompas more than 99% of people; after that I think it's really diminishing returns (pre-IE5.5 means pre-windows98).

      I can't see supporting netscape 4.7 anymore. It was a good browser, but it was released in what, 1998? It's time to move on, folks - it's been 8 years. It doesn't support CSS and iframes properly and a whole bunch of stuff. Trade in your SparcStations and PackardBells for something modern, please.

      Just attempt to make it degrade gracefully.

      ~Will
      • Trade in your SparcStations and PackardBells for something modern, please.

        Please? My SparcStations happily run Debian GNU/Linux "sid", with Firefox 1.5.

        I don't see any point of supporting ancient operating systems for hardware on which you can install a very modern operating system without problems. Or supportings Browsers on platforms for which there are modern browsers freely available.

        Of course, with "modern" I don't mean "has the latest graphical glitz" but "has a modern design and can work with xhtml/c
  • What we do (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Among other things, when Microsoft stops supporting it, I stop supporting it. Well, not really. But I stop including Windows 9x workstations in the standard contract, so if you want them supported, each one is an additional charge, and no guarantees are made that problems can be resolved.

    Personally, I think that a lot of places upgrade more frequently than necessary, but even I think that anything over 5 years old should have been replaced by now.
  • by chriss (26574) * <chriss@memomo.net> on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:35PM (#14524043) Homepage
    This is not only relevant to web design but to any programming at all.

    Shouldn't the only be stricken as in This is not relevant to web design, but to any other kind of programming?

    One of the big advantages of HTML is that it usually scales down nicely. I admit that once you start to rely on Javascript/DHTML/AJAX etc. exclusively you will run into problems, but if you care in any way about search engines being able to crawl your site you will most likely have at least a site map that can be handled by googlebot as well as lynx, links, w3m and any revision of Netscape or IE, however old they are. The pages will possibly look like crap if you rely on advanced CSS like hiding DIVs on demand, but will most likely still be useful. [This wont apply if you just cashed in 10 millions from a VC to build an MS Office clone in JS].

    This usually will not require a second development tree, just keeping your design clean and based on standards. I consider this a mayor sales point to management. As a nice extra you will even be able to handle requests from the future mobile web crowd, reaching your side from their smart phone, or even the millions of kids Nicolas Negroponte intends to provide with $100 laptops [wikipedia.org].

    For non-web platforms: as long as it pays.

    This may be cruel, but if you invest into older technology that will not generate any new sales, this money cannot be put into offering better service and features or price cuts for the new versions. It will be hard to determine how long something pays, e.g. customers may buy the newer version because they have learned from experience that the product will be supported for a long time, so not supporting W95 might actually be the wrong move. Try to determine how many support request you get from users with older versions and if they are returning customers. Determine the cost (in money and new features that cannot be implemented due to support for the old platform) for keeping the old version on board. If the costs are higher, kick it. Beneath other things you are responsible to stay in business, so you actually can support the current version for your customers.

  • by pvt_medic (715692) on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:36PM (#14524046)
    I think the best way of looking at this is with money.
    Who are your customers, and what are the demographics of their systems. Windows 98 is still a very prevelant system out there. I am writing this post from a computer that is still running windows 98. The big questions are
    How many are you going to loose by not including their system?
    how many can you afford to loose?
    And how much would it cost to include them?
  • If you have to ask yourself if you end support for a product and the answer isn't obviously no based on what you are actually trying to accomplish (probably taking real-world usage and demographics into consideration), then it's probably time to drop support for that product anyways.
  • by dallask (320655) <codeninja@@@gmail...com> on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:37PM (#14524055) Homepage
    I develop websites as well as part of a much larger firm. We stop providing support for older browsers (Like IE 5 and 5.5 Mac) when MS decides to stop supporting them.

    We will only test on XP, Win2K and win 98, but not 95... (that's just silly :)

    Our browser support goes back to IE 5.5 Win, NS 6, FF .8, and Safari (forget which version).

    Take the hint from others and you will be able to justify your actions.
  • I'd use a combination of statistics (perhaps netcraft?) and common sense. Obviously, lots of people still use Windows 98, but not so many are still on Win95. Pretty much nobody is on Win 3.1. Also, you should try to know something about your particular customer base. If your customers are older or poorer, they might have crappier, more poorly updated computers...
  • The obvious answer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kaligraphic (672594) on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:39PM (#14524061) Homepage Journal
    I suppose the obvious answer would be "What is the lowest level that you could reasonably expect from your userbase". For a site touting the latest and greatest in web technology, you might be a bit heavier in your requirements than for, say, a site on nutrition.

    For regular applications, you might ask yourself what the lowest level is that can reasonably be expected to do what's required. i.e. if you need a gig and a half of RAM for most operations, you might not support Win95 simply because it can't support you RAM-wise.

    Then, even if you could do it in '95, would your userbase still be in '95? Really, it just boils down to "what's on the machines of the people you want to serve?"
  • Simple economics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcrbids (148650) on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:41PM (#14524069) Journal
    There's a formula you can use to help you figure this out.

    A) Take the amount of money you're getting IN SALES of older product. Pull a number out your arse to represent the goodwill you get by supporting older products, and add it in.

    B) Take the amount of money you're spending TOTAL to support older product. Include salaries, time estimates, etc. Add in the costs of anticipated sales you'd get by people upgrading to the newer version.

    Profits=$A-$B;

    when Profit is close to or less than zero, you need to drop it.

    For some of my specially-crafted, workflow applications, I actually require end users to use Mozilla or Firefox in certain places. In this case, the margins on the sales are high, the number of people using it is fairly limited, and the code being displayed is rather complex, so the cost of getting all the required features working in the legacy IE5/6 browsers was large, while the benefit of supporting doing so was minimal. I don't get asked about supporting IE, but I do get asked lots about Mac.

    You want feature N? Get Mozilla. Free download! Works on Windows, Linux, and Mac!
  • You question was about stopping support, however your scenario covered adding support.

    Anyway, support depends on what the company is about. If the website provides an online service, then you would like to support a resonable range of technologies. However, if it's the site of a developmeny house that uses the 'latest technology', using table formatting instead of CSS just to support ancient browsers may not look too good.

    If it's just an informational website, then pick the top 3 browsers for each of th
  • If you have a retail site for example, you had better support every platform, or else you will miss out on potential customers. Consider this analogy: You own a drive through restaurant, and are unable to accomodate vehicles made prior to 1995 due to their width. That is you own business decision, but how many sales will you lose if part of the population can't get to your drive through window?
    If you don't make it easy for all your customers to use your product/service, then you are leaving money on the ta
    • The problem with this line of reasoning is that it means supporting browsers (or in the larger view, platforms) which are so old that making your product work with them is a huge security risk.

      Supporting older web browsers means allowing 40-bit SSL for "secure" transactions.

      Supporting older Microsoft OSes is basically the same in terms of authentication mechanisms, for example.
    • You hit the law of diminishing returns very quickly. As in, getting that last 10% of the customers would make 90% of your development budget. It's not generally worth it. That's why we have to have laws like the ADA -- the expense of adding a wheelchair ramp far outweighs any additional business it will bring.

      I would say, do all the easy stuff first. Supporting the last couple of browser versions is easy enough if you stick to standards. Stop when it gets too difficult/expensive.
  • It's a business that's being run... There's a cut off point between the amount of effort being put in and the reward for that effort.

     
  • When Should You Stop Support for Software?

    Simple, when the market will bear it.

  • If by 'should' you mean to imply an ethical decision, I think the answer is that you should not support the platforms but should try to support the standard, and the browsers 'should' try to do the same. It's only too bad we don't all live in my fantasy world. If by 'should' you mean to imply a business decision, you simply need to crunch the numbers and decide how many of you potential customers you will alienate by not supporting their platform. Compare this to how expensive it is and you have your answe
  • Support the browsers your target audience uses. Weigh up the cost of adding support for a particular browser against the profit you could make out of these users. If costs are heigher than profits, do not support that particular browser. But also have a look into the future, i.e. if you expect the share of customers using this browser to increase, you may consider adding support now.

  • by Diordna (815458)
    If I were you, I'd put up a counter and see what browsers are visiting the site, dropping support for browsers that never visit.

    The same principle goes for the rest of everything. Have a peek at the statistics, and if no one uses it, then don't support it. It's that simple.

    Alternately, don't support it if it's just too hard/impractical to support it. If a minor change would do, then it wouldn't hurt.
    • Answers like this are evidence that you should not permanently fake User Agent strings.

      "Oh, no one uses FireFox to visit our site!"

      "No, 11.7% of our users are using FireFox, and have to fake it to get around our User Agent filtering."
  • I'd like to implement a policy where where browsers that have not had major changes to their rendering engine within the last 4 years would be unsupported.

    Conveniently, this *would* exclude IE: last major version from 2001.

    Realistically though, even 4.x browsers is a real stretch.

  • Some people are stuck with "obsolete" software. Their platform may have been deemed obsolete and unsupported by the major software vendors, even though it still performs useful work and can't be easily replaced or upgraded. I use Netscape 4.7 on several systems because that was the last release available before Netscape dropped support for the platform.
  • by EEBaum (520514) on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:51PM (#14524127) Homepage
    Whatever you end up doing, don't block browsers out with the horrid "Sorry, you do not have Internet Explorer 5.0 or better" message. Most of the sites that show that message, I can view just fine if I can manage to get past the browser-blocking "welcome" page. Let the browsers "try" to view the page, even if your "what kind of browser are you?" check thinks it shouldn't be able to. Even if it doesn't display perfectly, the user might still get the information they were looking for.
    • by Mancat (831487)
      Good god I can't agree with this enough. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I can't view some music videos on MTV because their site detects that I'm using something other than Internet Explorer. Oh no, the world is ending. Of course if I fake the User Agent string, it works fine.
  • by aiken_d (127097) <brooks AT tangentry DOT com> on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:54PM (#14524143) Homepage
    (total number of users) * (% of users using browser) = # of users who you won't be supporting.

    We have a two-tired philosophy: we don't test with browsers that have 5% market share, because we're a small business with limited resources. However, if a user reports a problem in a 5% browser that's easy to fix, we'll fix it. If it's a fundamental issue (lack of CSS support, etc), we'll just say "sorry, can't do it."

    If it's not fundamental but not easy to fix, we'll consider the direction that the browser's market share is going in. An IE 4 problem that would take a lot of time to fix is not as important as an Opera problem that will take a lot of time to fix, because any work we do to support IE 4 is less and less valuable every day; Opera work should be worth more or less the same in a year that it is now (yeah yeah, it may gain another .5% of total market share, but you get my point).

    As you get more users, that threshold drops. If you've got a million revenue-generating users, it only takes a fraction of a percentage drop in revenue to justify the resources needed to support an old browser.

    Cheers
    -b
  • Time horizon (Score:4, Interesting)

    by vandelais (164490) on Friday January 20, 2006 @09:56PM (#14524157)
    I see a number of ?s/comments to the effect of 'IS it profitable?'

    The aspect of where both you and your users WILL BE in 18 months is not examined and what it would take for continuing support.

    Be forward looking, don't be like your 'whatdoyameanweranoutofcopiertoner' manager.
    -or-
    Bridges being built for tomorrow's traffic, not today's.
  • by GeorgeMcBay (106610) on Friday January 20, 2006 @10:00PM (#14524170)

    When Should You Stop Support for Software?


    Whenever I feel like it. GOSH!
  • Wouldn't it be great if everyone followed standards precisely and without error so that everything was 100% compatible?

    One of our ColdFusion-based web sites has tens-of-thousands of authenticated users, but there's one user running MS-IE 5.2.7 (I think) on an old MacOS PPC who can't post a form back to a particular page - the browser sends the POST request, but no form data. It doesn't even have a file-upload element, the page works for everybody else and it would seem she has no problems with any other pag
  • While not everything can be universal-platform, I wish more websites had a better text-only/lo-fi version.

    My current work situation forces me to do most of my browsing from a blackberry. I make purchasing decisions based on the information I get in this form. Even if Flash and images weren't a problem, because of speed I would prefer something that would actually work in LYNX (with pictures only used when the content REQUIRES it...not the "design."

    LO-FI site options give you exposure to a remaining 5-10% o
  • When, for example, can you say that I will *not* support a certain version of Windows. Can you say that now about Windows 98? How about 95?

    I think Microsoft been telling developers for the last few years to forget about Windows 9x to focus on Windows 2000/XP (and soon-to-be Windows "I'm NOT Duke Nukem Forever" Vista). If Microsoft is officially ending support for a particular product line, that's a good indication to move along. Of course, Microsoft support solution for every problem is to upgrade to lat
  • I think the question ought to be "when do you START support for software".

    Because the answer is, "When you can afford to".

    It's all nice and good, but for a small organization with limited resources it doesn't make sense to take the extra effort to support Lynx, when 99.9% of your potential customers are going to be on the top 2.

    From a business perspective it makes absolutely no sense to spend money on that. Then as you grow bigger and you are less resource limited, you can start being a "nice" citizen.

    After
  • If you're supporting I.E. 5, Firefox, Opera, and Safari, you're miles ahead of the pack. Really, how much extra effort do you need to put in to support those 10,000 full-time Lynx users, considering that maybe one will surf into your site?

    You may think your (website / application / organization) is going to take over the world and needs to be relevant to 100% of the population, but it isn't and it doesn't. Have you tested it with screen readers? Have you made available a high-contrast, large font CSS fil
  • I work for a company that provides contract system and network administration for small- to medium-sized businesses. They pay us on a quarterly basis to do routine maintenance on their systems and to be available on an on-call basis. We also host, manage, develop, and design web sites.

    If a client has a Win98 system and they're paying us to support it, we do, even if Microsoft has end-of-lifed that product. We try to get them to upgrade to something more recent if the hardware can support it, but companie

  • Oh! Oh! I know this one. I have a degree in Economics so I think I can help you here:

    You should stop supporting older software when the cost is more than the benefit.

    Note that "cost" and "benefit" do not *have* to be expressed in dollars, but that can often be a good proxy (especially in a commercial venture).
  • Check the user agent of your client base.

    Make an educated decision on whether supporting that 1% (or whatever) of IE3.0 users is financially viable.

    Ditto for the other minority browsers.

    The decision is one only management can really make - give them the options (cost/design compromise vs % of visitors) and let them make the call.

    Easy.

    smash.

  • by Brandybuck (704397) on Friday January 20, 2006 @10:38PM (#14524346) Homepage Journal
    It depends on your definition of "support". To many web developers, "support" means you deliberately prevent the site from working on unsupported browsers. A slightly more lenient web developers will instead throw up a "hey idiot" message to users that they aren't using an approved browser.

    What you need to do is to make the page conformant to standards. Don't use yesterday's revised standard, use something that reasonably supported by a lot of browsers. And use only what you need, because the more odd corners of CSS you decide to use, the fewer browsers the page will render correctly in.

    Dish out IE-specific pages to IE, because it whines if it doesn't get them. Then dish out standard HTML/CSS/Javascript to everything else. If you want to be thorough, dish out HTML 3.2 for older browsers.

    You will want to *test* the page on a lot of different browsers at a lot of different versions. You should be doing this anyway, without having to ask Slashdot for permission.
  • by dbIII (701233) on Friday January 20, 2006 @10:41PM (#14524360)
    Windows98 is still going onto new systems today. There is a lot of software written within companies or specially developed hardware which doesn't work on a newer Microsoft operating system. I saw MS Win98 get installed on a new industrial PC yesterday - a thing with multiple processor cards connected by a backplane - using SATA drives and a 2GHz processor on the card.

    Windows CE would be a much better Microsoft operating system for the job, or something completely different - and the software would be much better written in something completely portable. Porting old software and device drivers from MS Win98 would not be a trivial task in a lot of cases (the source code may no longer be possible to obtain in some cases), so there is still a lot of stuff on legacy systems.

  • Support (Score:3, Insightful)

    by deanj (519759) on Friday January 20, 2006 @10:43PM (#14524364)
    This completely depends on your customer base. If 80% of your customer base is Windows 95, then you'd better support that platform. If it's just two percent, and the other 98 percent is Win 98 and Win XP, then it's probably time to rethink that last two percent, especially if continuing to support is holding you back.

    That said, think a long time before you drop support, and only do it if continuing to do that support is hurting your company or the product in some way. Customers in that minority that enjoy your products, and especially long time customers who are in that minority, will be pretty vocal about their happiness that you've got a product they can still use. This can help drive further sales.

    At some point, you might have to drop support despite the wishes of these customers, but until that time, continue to support 'em as long as you can.

    We have a set of potential customers we'd love to be able to support with our products, but the platform vendor bailed on 'em a long time ago. We can't even get the development software for the platform any more. We've had a number of inquiries about that platform, and we know that if we could support those folks, they'd love to have our software, but there's not much we can do.
  • by shoolz (752000) on Friday January 20, 2006 @10:44PM (#14524366) Homepage
    I'm not trying to attack or troll, but seriously, you can't develop a product to beta stage, and then start questioning whether it should run on hardware/software X or Y.

    The correct way to go about any project is to identify the target audience and their technology, and develop accordingly. 12 years of bone-headed decisions have taught me this simple truth.

    Never build a house first and then question if the design was right or the tools were chosen correctly - identify what you need in a house first, design it accordingly, and then pick the tools to build it.
  • by dghcasp (459766) on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:11PM (#14524472)
    From looking at various reports on various websites, it seems you can get "approximately" 99% coverage by supporting IE 5.5+ on Windows, Firefox 1.1+, Netscape 6+, Safari, and IE 5.1x on Mac. This is what we support at our office.

    Part of the problem is that every single site that offers user-agent statistics is in some way biased by its userbase. I really wish Yahoo and/or Google would publish user agent statistics; that would be probably as close to a proper sample of the world as you could get.

    Right now, make sure you're turning on user-agent logging for your new site. Yes, the logs do waste some disk space, but they compress to nothing, and there's nothing better than seeing exactly what percentage of your users are using various browsers.

    As an example, I made my life much easier when I stopped supporting IE 5.16 on Mac. There's a few very subtle differences between 5.16 and 5.17 when it comes to div's encosing other div's, and 5.16 rendering will break when every other browser is OK. I was able to end this nightmare when I showed my boss that he was the only user in the past six months who had accessed the site with IE 5.16 (which implies, of course, that every 5.16 rendering bug ended up at priority 1.)

    And just a reminder that IE 7 is coming, with an, er, interesting collection of fixed bugs, maintained bugs, and removed hacks [positioniseverything.net]

  • by JoeCommodore (567479) <larry@portcommodore.com> on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:44PM (#14524604) Homepage
    As many had said this is your descision the way I see it you have to look at two factors, your customer base and your business plans.

    Cuistomer Base

    What's your target audience, is it kids, or early 20s (which probably all have newer machines), or are they anyone with low income - potentially elderly/disabld with restricted (library/hand-me-down pc) access. As many have said if you want to serve the blind and disabled you will have to factor that in though you can keep your site modern.

    Business Plans

    If you guys are planning on rolling out some digital content as a key factor of your business strategy, there is another line for you, some media may not even work on older machines, best to start the PR to let people know wqhat is coming down the road instead of an overnight fiasco as many are not able tro access your new features when they hit.

    If you are doing it merely to capture more market atttention maybe you should do a market study by interviewing current and potential clients and seeing what they really need or expect to have in such a site.

  • economics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by b17bmbr (608864) on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:53PM (#14524648)
    I teach econ at the high school level (besides, it was my major!!). Here's an economic analysis: when the marginal cost of support exceeds the marginal benefit. I know that sounds crazy, but look at it this way. If it require 5 additional hours of programming to support say IE3, and your time is say $50 per hour, then you'd better get at least $250 of benefit from it. If someone is running IE3, that means they're on what, windows 95. If they haven't bought a new computer in 8 + years, then I guess that they aren't going to be buying alot of newer stuff anyways. And if they are content with their poor overall web experience, than accomodating them is probably not worth it. In fact, testing for lynx, et al., is also probably a waste of time. For purely philosophical reasons, adhering to standards is nice, but might not make sense from a practical standpoint. I do my wife's photo web site, and all I use is all CSS2 positioning, no tables, spacer gifs, etc. Why? When she does a shoot, for it to be worth her while someone better spend a few hundred dollars minimum. Checking her stats, 75% of her visitors used IE6 and 16% used Firefox. (6.6% Safari) Do the math. Is it worth it to support 3% of her visitors? If they can't even afford a relatively new computer, $500 maybe, then are they going to spend that on the session and portraits? Now, it depends on also I imagine the audience your addressing. If your site say is for old folks, then maybe they're running their kids old computer and it might have win98/IE4. But overall I'd say just figure out what it's going to cost you, and then what you're going to get from it. Really, if you turn off someone who isn't going to spend anyways, they really weren't a customer.
  • by Z00L00K (682162) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @03:14AM (#14525121) Homepage
    Some steps to consider.
    • Start with the HTML validator [w3.org] at W3C [w3.org] and use HTML 4.01 [w3.org] as your target for HTML. This will ensure that most browsers will be able to read your web pages.
    • If you are REALLY paranoid you may go for HTML 3.2 [w3.org], but personally I think that it is to stretch it too far.
    • Second stage is to check JavaScript version and make sure that you use the right version. E.g. <script language="javascript1.2" type="text/javascript"></script>.
    • O'Reilly's book JavaScript: The Definitive Guide [amazon.com] is really helpful. It contains examples of how to determine JavaScript version if you need to use features from a newer JavaScript in some cases.
    • Whatever you do - DO NOT USE VBSCRIPT/JScript! (Except if you want to catch special quirks with IE).
    • Firefox contains two good tools that are really helpful when doing Javascript, the JavaScript console and the DOM Inspector. Of course - you will still need to verify against the older browsers too, but you will get a good start.
    • Use JavaScript to warn the user (in a nice manner) that there may be some problems with the browser used.
    • Be careful with the use of CSS. It is useful, and can make your HTML more 'clean'. The backside is that not all browsers handles CSS the same way.
    • When specifying sizes - always use specify the size unit.
      The following three alternatives produces different result, and it may also depend on your browser:

      <span style="font-size: 10px;">Hello</span><br>
      <span style="font-size: 10pt;">Hello</span><br>
      <span style="font-size: 10;">Hello (invalid - unit must be used)</span><br>

      Validate the CSS you are using through the CSS Validator [w3.org]

    • Double-check for script errors in other browsers since there are differences in the handling even though two different browsers may support the same scripting. For example - IE does not allow JavaScript to focus a hidden field while Firefox does.
    • Put almost all JavaScript source in an external file and don't embed it into the web page. This will make the page a lot cleaner! The same goes for CSS.
    • When specifying a font in CSS, give a list of fonts and end the list with one of the following; "Proportional", "Serif", "Sans-serif" or "Monospace". This will ensure that the page is displayed with a look&feel that resembles your intent.
    • ALWAYS specify the content type so that the correct character set is used! E.g.: <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=ISO-8859-1">. W3C specifies that if it isn't given UTF-8 shall be used, but different browsers behaves differently here! Use ISO-8859-1 or UTF-8 even if your page is in plain US-ASCII, since both are supersets of US-ASCII and you may be using a symbol outside the US-ASCII range without realizing it!
  • by tacocat (527354) <tallison1.twmi@rr@com> on Saturday January 21, 2006 @07:09AM (#14525663)

    Get a clue. Don't support the browsers. None of them. Don't support the IE series or the Firefox browsers.

    Support to a set of standards.

  • by mcvos (645701) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @07:30AM (#14525718)

    Well, that's the principle. Since 90% of the web surfers (less on tech-savvy sites) use IE, I suppose explicitly supporting the latest version of IE is a good idea. But other than that:

    • Stick to the standards.
    • Use the correct (X)HTML declaration and obey it.
    • Do all layout in CSS, don't muck around with tables (except for the 3-columns problem; there tables are acceptable, IMO).
    • Make sure it's still readable without CSS.
    • Don't use javascript unless you really have to. Try to make sure it still works without javascript.
    • Don't use flash, except for content. Using Flash for navigation is really, really bad, but if flash animations and games are the main purpose of your site, it's obviously okay to use it. You're targeting a smaller audience anyway.
    • Give every image an alt attribute. If it's a meaningless image, give it an alt="". Blind people like not hearing "image, image" all the time.
    • Don't use absolute font sizes; declare a "font-size: x%" in the body (I've read somewhere that 76% looks the same in all browsers) and use %s or ems from there. Forefox may be smart enough to change absolute font sizes, but IE isn't.
    • Avoid browser-specific hacks, unless you really, really have to. (Meaning IE is being stupid again.)

    I'm sure there's a lot more that every webdesigner should know, but this is a nice start.

  • Here's what I do (Score:4, Interesting)

    by porneL (674499) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @07:51AM (#14525782) Homepage

    You don't have to drop support for any browser. HTML is backwards compatible and you can even write "AJAX" stuff that degrades nicely.

    1. Code website that works with no JS and no CSS support. It doesn't have to be pretty (no <font>, just semantic HTML) nor work smootly (just use regular forms).
    2. Add styling designed for modern browsers like Firefox, Opera, Safari and hide these stylesheets from junk like Netscape 4 (@import trick).
    3. Add CSS hacks for IE (use HTML conditional comments, because IE7 breaks most hacks)
    4. Modify document using JS and DOM to add handlers for all dynamic, ajaxy flashy stuff. That's progressive enhancement [onlinetools.org].

A language that doesn't have everything is actually easier to program in than some that do. -- Dennis M. Ritchie

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