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Questions revolving around ways of getting customers to embrace new web technology / browsers so one can deliver better web software to the end user.

It's hard to manage expectations of customers. Expectations such as:

  1. Websites should work on older browsers. (ambiguous).
  2. Websites should not require specific hardware.
  3. Giving system / computer specs for running a website is unacceptable.

Web development isn't as easy as many think. There's a lot that goes into creating a properly run web application (not just a website). Take a look at Google Docs or Microsoft Office online. These are more than just regular websites, and they force users to use newer browsers.

MS Office Online will not work with IE6, and they are trying very hard to push people to use IE8 (soon IE9). Google pushes as well, same with many other strong web entities.

You can do a lot on the internet, from playing games, watching movies, doing work, even coding and have the server you're connected to compile your code.

With everything the web can do, I find it amazing that people still want to put unrealistic expectations on web applications just because it will require someone to use a browser that is only... 2-3 years old.

I understand people don't like change. And we all know that many corporations will provide days/weeks of training to help their employees understand new internet browsers. There are also cases where people are forced to use old browsers because the archaic system they use for internal work only runs on that browser (ActiveX+IE6).

My Questions

How can you tell your end users that they will need to upgrade their browser to use the latest version of your website without a huge outcry?

Why does the expectation exist that it's ok for software to require people to upgrade Windows/Mac versions, but a website cannot require a new browser version?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

First of all, I don't really think people have any greater motivation "to upgrade Windows/Mac versions": Here are the usage share of web client operating systems (August 2010): Windows XP (48.32%), Windows 7 (19.81%), Windows Vista (18.43%), Mac OS X (6.42%), iOS (iPhone) (1.40%), Linux (1.34%). So nearly 50% are using an outdated OS (XP).

By contrast, here are the usage share statistics for browsers: Overall- IE (31.1 %), FF (45.1%), Chrome (17.3%), Safari (3.7%), Opera (2.2%). Breaking down IE by version- IE9 (0.2%), IE8 (17.3%), IE 7 (8.0 %), IE6 (5.6%). And for Firefox- FF4 (0.8%), FF3.6 (35.3%), FF3.5 (5.6%), FF3.0 (2.9%). So over 50% use the latest stable (or beta) versions of these browsers.

As for your other question--"How can you tell your end users that they will need to upgrade their browser to use the latest version of your website without a huge outcry?"--you must understand (i) the factors motivating people to upgrade, and (ii) the factors inhibiting people from upgrading; then you must use these factors to bolster your appeal to your end-users.

Motivators

What rewards do end-users get by upgrading? Skimming Microsoft's IE8 marketing materials, these are the motivators they stressed most:

  • Appeals to Efficiency/Laziness:
    • Faster surfing (i.e., you will gain more free-time if you switch)
    • You can accomplish more work with fewer clicks, because of a more intuitive design. IE7 had put certain buttons in strange places, etc. (I.e., you will lose less effort [as measured in clicks] if you upgrade).
  • Appeals to Security/Fear:
    • SmartScreen protects you from malicious software (i.e., you will lose safety if you don't upgrade).
    • Compatibility View allows you to view older pages correctly just as the website’s designers intended (i.e., you won't lose anything if you upgrade).

So motivators boil down to what the end-user will gain by upgrading (or lose if they don't upgrade). These things must be important to the end-user: Time, effort, financial security, compatibility, etc.

Reinforcers

Reinforcers aren't rewards, but they help increase the rate of adopting the desired behavior. Here's an example: Your web site can detect old versions of browsers, and direct users to download and install the latest versions by providing links and motivators.

Inhibitors

  1. Nuisance (cost in terms of time and effort) to upgrade
  2. Nuisance of learning something new
  3. New versions are inevitably buggy and suffer from incompatibilities that haven't yet been discovered

You must anticipate these arguments, and develop effective counter-arguments:

  1. There is a risk/reward trade-off, and the rewards outweigh these risks.
  2. New versions of browsers are fully supported, and bugs will be worked out. By contrast, older versions aren't well supported; and the oldest version have lost support entirely.
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There are additional inhibitors if your users are employees of a large organization. Migration between browser versions is NOT trivial, as the applications people have been using (AND NEED TO CONTINUE USING) with the old version of IE, for example, may look or behave differently on the latest version. So, telling everyone to upgrade to IE 9 or FF 6 may be frowned upon by a big part of your user base. –  Matthew Flynn Sep 7 '11 at 21:03

The primary point in favor of using a web site is that people can use it without worrying about the hassles of installing and maintaining up to date software. If they have to do that anyway, desktop applications generally have substantial advantages in responsiveness, performance, features, etc.

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At the end of the day, web app's are generally cheaper and more economical, which is why they're catching on. That said, users will still buy new hardware to support Windows 7 so they can use Office 2010, but ask them to upgrade a browser to use it online, and that's out of the question. –  Ryan Ternier Oct 15 '10 at 22:10

The expectation that a website shouldn't need a new browser is simple. The browser works fine with other sites. Why is yours broken?

To overcome this resistance, you should take a page from Adobe's playbook and keep as much of your site's functionality compatible with older browsers as possible. For that which requires a more modern browser, have some graphic indicate that additional functionality requires X feature of newer browsers.

If you're dumping support for some outdated browser feature, try to have some corresponding indication on your site as well.

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