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Is it good practice to prompt users to update their out-of-date browser (older than IE9)?

I know that we should develop sites which work with older versions of browsers, but is the extra effort worth it or should we rely on the users themselves update the browser? After all, newer browsers are more secure, have better performance and are more compatible with other sites.

Thoughts?

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While there are differences, there is not much that cannot be made compatible in older browsers depending upon what you are doing.

If you are developing your site and wanting to add features but feel hampered by the lack of advance in the use of newer versions of a browsers, then you have to decide what you are really doing. For example, if you are developing an audience to sell product or to make money through advertising, then really, you have to meet your users where they are. To optimize a site can mean remaining intentionally simple and doing the added work to make sure you are serving as many potential customers and users as possible.

However, if you are developing a website that is an application or technically involved, that could be very much different. For example, I once worked on a reporting engine that had three elements; static "canned" reports offered "ala carte", dynamically defined "ad-hoc" reports, and cubed-data analysis, of various services already purchased. Each level of access had a cost and each level of service had a technical requirement that could not be avoided. In this case, in order for the user to access the service data they had purchased, the technology required that the browser be at a minimum level before these services could be accessed. In this case, prior to purchase, these requirements were made quite clear. The advanced use of technology was the price of entry for advanced services.

If you are developing a website and you want to do certain things and do not want to support older browsers, of course that is your choice. If your site does certain technical things that require newer browsers, of course this is your choice. Keep in mind that the narrower you make the price of entry to your site, the fewer people you will be able to serve.

It is a numbers game really. What is your goal? Is it necessary and reasonable to implement a certain level of expectation from your user? And would you miss your goal metrics if you implement a standard that would limit the market? It may be penny wise and pound foolish to skip the added development effort to accommodate users of older browsers. Only you can decide that.

But here is what you will miss. I have been to these sites that ask me to update my browser. I use Chrome and it is up to date or reasonably so. The request in of itself interrupts the user thus effecting the user experience (UX). Often a user may not be in a position to update. It is perfectly reasonable that a Windows XP user has IE 8 and will visit your site. If you ask them to update their browser, you have asked them to spend hundreds of dollars that they likely feel is unnecessary. It may be an older computer, but not so old as to be replace it yet. Maybe what they are searching for exists on your site but the user can get the information elsewhere. I cannot tell you how many times this has happened to some of the people I deal with and the result is always the same. The user skips your site and goes elsewhere.

The bottom-line:

I would not recommend asking a user to update the browser, unless there is a clear technological advantage to the user and only after I have made it clear that the offering you have requires technology that exists in newer browsers.

  • Thanks for your explanation, the site is just a product demonstration with a store to purchase them hosted elsewhere. I was skeptical about the idea but there are many adaptations for this solution yet I have never come across one (although I do use Chrome, so maybe never encountered it). Looking at our Google Analytics, 3% of our users use IE8 or less (from 13,000+ visitors), of which < 0.7% use IE6-IE7, IE8 is workable. I agree with your answer. – Stefan Dunn Nov 29 '14 at 20:06
  • @StefanDunn Thank You. I tend to create down-right stupid sites- that is HTML wise. I avoid JavaScript and the like. But I have worked on sites where technology is vastly important for the service provided. I applaud the use of JavaScript, however, there are also too many sites that will kill a computer with one visit. I always drop back to the metrics and the goal for most decisions. While my site is simple, I found that it really did not need much more than HTML 4.0 compliance. But that will not be the case for everybody. Every audience is different. Shoot for center mass if possible. – closetnoc Nov 29 '14 at 20:35
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The answer to your question is not that simple and depends on various factors, I'll explain:

1. Features - Are your users going to lose part of the functionality of your site because they are on an old browser? if yes, tell them to update.

2. Audience - Are the audience of your site likely to use an old browser? (ex.: elderly specific content, broad audiences, etc), if so, update your content to work on older browsers. In this situation is normal that your content is not that complex anyway like modern JS libraries or CSS.

3. Website - Is your website built with old technology or an old CMS? if so take your time to review the first two items and combine that with the opportunity to build a new, modern and secure website.

If your question was done two or three years ago I would say no, however today I say yes as the new features, security and speed are so much better there's no arguments to defend it.

We need to move forward.

Take a look at this library, I think it's great -> http://outdatedbrowser.com/en

  • Thanks for the explanation, these were my key concerns as well but with security being a more important issue then that helps although there is no security vulnerabilities in the websites I am currently developing but I suppose its good to inform the user. – Stefan Dunn Nov 29 '14 at 20:13
  • "elderly" - some of the largest groups using old browsers are corporate environments that have their machines locked down, and are perhaps still reliant on older browsers to run certain software. – MrWhite Nov 29 '14 at 23:56
  • Yes, I agree corporate environments are also part of the example, although I've been noticing that Google Chrome is taking over for security reasons. – nunorbatista Nov 30 '14 at 10:16
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You should not ask users to update. Maybe you will tell them, 'sorry, you can't use this site with your old browser.' Maybe you won't. Other answers have covered the tradeoffs there. My point is that a tiny number of people will be able to respond if you tell them to update. Of all the people you will hit, the majority will be either:

  • Locked into their corporate environment
  • Running an ancient environment
  • Lack the knowledge of how to go about it

So, telling them to upgrade is just provoking frustration or confusion. Telling them, simply, 'your browser is too old' gives them the bad news without the insult-to-injury of asking them to take an action that they almost certainly cannot take.

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