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When Should You Stop Support for Software?

Cliff posted more than 8 years ago | from the limited-resources-and-hard-decisions dept.

Programming 438

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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That completely depends (2, Interesting)

Travoltus (110240) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524024)

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.

Re:That completely depends (4, Informative)

Arker (91948) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524158)

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

The Automotive Industry (4, Interesting)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524205)

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

Re:That completely depends (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14524210)

Try designing for the US military. I still have to ensure my web apps work with Netscape 4.7. It's not fun, but the project requirements define the work.

More up to date browsers? (2, Insightful)

ickeicke (927264) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524219)

More up to date browsers?

It is not so much that lynx is not up to date, but just that it does not have a fancy GUI.

Re:That completely depends (2, Insightful)

drivekiller (926247) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524251)

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.

Re:That completely depends (4, Insightful)

Simon Garlick (104721) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524282)

The gold standard in this case is WILL IT MAKE MONEY. If supporting users on IE3 costs more money than you'll get FROM users on IE3, don't do it. Simple.

Depends... (5, Insightful)

ndogg (158021) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524026)

Depends on if you consider x% of the interweb population to be valuable to your business.

Re:Depends... (5, Informative)

BasilBrush (643681) | more than 8 years ago | (#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... (1)

theGeekDude (905574) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524194)

I guess supporting IE6 and firefox will get you majority of the users. The rest is just waste of time unless you are really paranoid about supporting it on every browser on earth.

Re:Depends... (0)

Tatsh (893946) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524268)

Who cares about stupid Windows 3.1/95/98 users?! I seriously would only care about supporting IE 5, 6, and Firefox and say screw off to anyone using anything else. From a business sense this sounds bad automatically. However, telling users that they suck at life in a nice way will help to spread some good knowledge. On said website, I would have a Spread Firefox link somewhere near the bottom.

Re:Depends... (4, Insightful)

unoengborg (209251) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524280)

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.

You should literally ask Slashdot (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14524028)

For example - Slashdot gave up links support when they added captchas.

Re:You should literally ask Slashdot (0, Offtopic)

log0 (714969) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524098)

Tip: Create an account (using Firefox) and you won't have to deal with captchas.

Re:You should literally ask Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14524133)

Tip: Create an account (using Firefox) and you won't have to deal with captchas.

Gee, brainiac, thanks for the tip. I would have never figured that one out.

Re:You should literally ask Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14524156)

What a remarkably useless non-solution. That's like saying if your bank website doesn't support Firefox it's OK because you can always use IE and then save your account info to plain text.

Re:You should literally ask Slashdot (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524274)

A totally useless solution would be: ALT-F4. However, don't press F5 repeatedly or the Internet will crash. :P

When the vendor no longer supports it... (3, Insightful)

(H)elix1 (231155) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524029)

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....

Re:When the vendor no longer supports it... (1)

Dr_Harm (529148) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524129)

EOL is really only appropriate if the question of 'support' is taken to mean 'required to fix bugs'. After all, it's perfectly reasonable to say that IE 1 has bugs that weren't fixed, and this web site just won't render properly (even if it's plain HTML). You can substitute your own similar example with another software package easily. But, in this situation, the 'fault' lies in old software which is EOL; a simple upgrade to a supported package would fix the problem.

However, the other half of the question is "should I design to require features which are only present in newer releases"? For example, if you want to use CSS, you're implicitly ruling out lots of old web browser technology (if you assume you want perfectly uniform end-user experience). That question is really driven by the business-end of things; you need to design towards your target audience.

Statistics (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14524031)

Why not come up with some percentage of people you are willing to support, say 90%. Then find out how many people use each variety of browser or OS. These numbers are usually available on the net. Then you select the top N platforms needed to fill out your percentage supported number.

Re:Statistics (1)

ScottCooperDotNet (929575) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524231)

Why not come up with some percentage of people you are willing to support, say 90%. Then find out how many people use each variety of browser or OS. These numbers are usually available on the net. Then you select the top N platforms needed to fill out your percentage supported number.

The percent will change depending on who the website's target audience is. If you're a high end clothes site [appleseeds.com] you can support less stuff than say a computer shop.

From my uneducated guess, I'd say IE5 and 6, Firefox, Mozilla, Safari and Netscape 6 should be fine. If you can't convince them supporting the top 90-95% is a good idea, make sure regression testing (is that the term?) for Netscape 4 and IE 4 (etc) is a separate charge.

Also, what are most visitors it the site currently using?

This is Easy... (4, Insightful)

barfy (256323) | more than 8 years ago | (#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... (5, Interesting)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524128)

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... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14524255)

If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons?"

Mod you up for a most insightful sig

Re:This is Easy... (2, Insightful)

Zerathdune (912589) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524286)

while in general, I agree with you, your point doesn't quite apply to this situation.

we're talking about supporting old web browsers when doing web design. you can't charge for the site working with a particular browser, (or at least, that would be a little weird,) it either works or it doesn't. the question is, is it worth making sure it works with browser X or is the extra work going to outweigh the benefits?

again, we're not dealing with the kind of support where, "ok, I'll help you figure out this problem," we're talking about the kind of support where "my product works with the tool you're using." that kind of support is either there or it isn't. no one is going to pay you to send them a version of the site reworked for their browser.

Re:This is Easy... (1)

amazon10x (737466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524141)

You've got it right. And as someone said in a later comment, this decision should be made by the business, not the web designer.

Let's say your company decides to include support for IE3 Netscape Navigator 3. You charge them an extra $300 to ensure compatibility. Now users who have IE3 or NN3 make up only .6% of their visitors. The company must decide if the amount of leads they get from that small amount of people will allow them to make a profit.

I believe this is typically referred to as Return On Investment (ROI)

Re:This is Easy... (1)

JourneyExpertApe (906162) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524189)

Unfortunately, that decision isn't always up to the programmer. I've recently had a customer ask for Windows 95 support on software that requires a computer with about 128 MB of ram. Chances are, if they are still running 95, they won't know how to upgrade their RAM and will have 32 MB and a 1.5 GB hard drive. I couldn't find my old copy of 95 and I couldn't find an iso to download anywhere. I just didn't support it. It's not like they have a way to test it anyway. ;)

Also, I give lower priority to supporting things which the user can easily upgrade for free (like browsers).

For what it's worth, here's what I generally support when it's up to me:
Windows 98
IE 5.0
Firefox (most recent version)

If I need to support Mac, I support OS X 10.3 and the version of Safari that came with it.

That is a business decision. (3, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:That is a business decision. (2, Insightful)

Persol (719185) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524088)

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).

Re:That is a business decision. (1)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524161)

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?)

Re:That is a business decision. (2, Interesting)

YU Nicks NE Way (129084) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524179)

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 engineering forever.

Stop support when it is not profitable? (1)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524039)

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.

Does the vendor support it? (2, Insightful)

mveloso (325617) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Does the vendor support it? (1)

bnf (16861) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524080)

(value of a user) * (% of users on platform x) - (cost to support platform x)

still in black? is it by a margin that you like? what's your gut tell you about the trend over the next year or two?

Re:Does the vendor support it? (5, Insightful)

zerocool^ (112121) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524115)


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

What we do (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14524042)

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.

Support only if it pays (4, Informative)

chriss (26574) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524043)

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.

value of lost customers (3, Interesting)

pvt_medic (715692) | more than 8 years ago | (#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?

Re:value of lost customers (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14524225)

I think a more relevant analysis is this:

Are those users that you're shutting out likely to be also people interested in your products/services/charity etc?

Compare the demographics of your "typical customer" to the people who still use outdated OSs/browsers. If your organization sells expensive golf clubs, how likely is it that a potential customer for those clubs will be running Windows 95 (or whatever)?

(Yeah, we've all heard stories of bigwigs with stone age software, but those are the exceptions)

Backwards compatible my *** (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14524050)

Really, in order for technology to grow, you HAVE to stop supporting older browsers. Even with the hell it would create for a while, i want all of the major technology companies in the world to get together, decide on standards, and stop supporting old ones.

Why can't the computer industries do what TV is doing in America? They are forcing everyone to go digital. No more anolouge. Period.

Simple rule (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524052)

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.

Take the lead from others.... (4, Insightful)

dallask (320655) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524055)

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.

Re:Take the lead from others.... (1)

dhasenan (758719) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524089)

I'm using Firebird 0.7, you insensitive clod!

(Well, actually, I am. Had this computer at uni in 2003, used by parents on dialup since.)

Re:Take the lead from others.... (1)

vandelais (164490) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524199)

I develop websites as well as part of a much larger firm.

is that firm...Microsoft?

Re:Take the lead from others.... (1)

dallask (320655) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524252)

Hell no... if we can help it we won't even touch an ASP site. I can usually find a security flaw in any asp site created by a --Senior web developer... most of the time they are wide open to SQL injection in their admin login forms...

Silly WYSIWYG developers...

Re:Take the lead from others.... (1)

slashjunkie (800216) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524249)

Why support Firefox 0.8? Anything prior to 1.0 was essentially beta software. Would you explicitly support a version of IE, after it had gone RTM? Firefox doesn't seem to gain much bloat (yet) from version to version, so I can't understand why there are still people running pre-1.0 versions of it.

Keep 98, drop 95 (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524056)

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...

Re:Keep 98, drop 95 (1)

faitzy (857887) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524099)

My company made the decision to drop support for Win98 and took it on the chin in a big way. We figured that our customers were what you might consider upscale well-to-do individuals, not neccessarily tech savy but probably all running at least Win 2000. We've had a flood of support calls that's causing quite a bit of work for our help desk. Long story short might do well to querry a sample of your audience

Simple (-1, Troll)

melted (227442) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524058)

MS IE: support the oldest browser which Microsoft still supports and releases patches for
Mozilla: Firefox 1.0
Safari: support the oldest Apple supports and releases patches for
Opera: Give it a finger, no one is using it anyway

Re:Simple (5, Funny)

Kumkwat (312490) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524119)


Opera: Give it a finger, no one is using it anyway


I just read that using Opera, you insensitive clod.

Re:Simple (2, Informative)

JourneyExpertApe (906162) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524266)

Actually, according to this graph [wikipedia.org] , Safari and Opera are about equal. It would appear many Mac users don't use Safari.

The obvious answer (3, Insightful)

kaligraphic (672594) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524061)

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?"

The bottom line. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14524067)

Profitability.

If you're programming for money, then do you want to do business with the largest userbase possible. That means, what you are doing is popularity driven. If your customers are on win3.11 or dos6 machines, then you code for those machines. If you've got your current product sufficiently done and have some extra time left over, then is the time to spread into new markets as is with all businesses. Ultimatly, if cost doesn't justify the support then don't do it.

If you're programming for fun, then you do what you want because it's rewarding to you. Make your app for a certain platforms and it's popularity will drive itself. Hence the OSS model. Doing anything else is sadomasochistic.

The last and best place support should end up is in a perminant forum with a very good search utility and an FTP file archive all running on old, redundant, stable hardware that will mabye get a few hundred hits a year. Your reputation will be very good for providing support like that since people know in 10 years when they plug in their old machine they can still find drivers or programs for it even if nothing new is being produced for it. It's also very cheap.

Simple economics (4, Interesting)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524069)

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!

Re:Simple economics (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14524091)

Yeah, simple economics. Use the same simple economics Microsoft does: make sure the platform you want to promote works, and don't worry about the others. I can't think of a single reason that should be o.k. for Microsoft, but not o.k. for everyone else too.

What is your question? (1)

TrappedByMyself (861094) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524070)

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 the platforms you care about and support the versions that were released in the last 3 years.

Depends on the audience... (1)

Alex P Keaton in da (882660) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524072)

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 table...

Re:Depends on the audience... (2, Insightful)

blincoln (592401) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524184)

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.

Re:Depends on the audience... (1)

alienw (585907) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524207)

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.

You stop when it stops being profitable (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524083)

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? (1)

toupsie (88295) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524084)

When Should You Stop Support for Software?

Simple, when the market will bear it.

It depends on what you mean by should (1)

Mrs. Grundy (680212) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524090)

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 answer to what you 'should' do. This of course will depend on the nature of your customer base.

Depends on the target audience (1)

dorkygeek (898295) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524095)

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.

Look at the statistics (2, Insightful)

Diordna (815458) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524097)

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.

Re:Look at the statistics (2, Insightful)

singularity (2031) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524271)

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."

Four years (1)

Dracos (107777) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524100)

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.

Re:Four years (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524137)

id' rather support ones that don't change than ones that changed every 6 months

Obsolete Software (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524116)

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.

Not supporting W98 is foolish for small business. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14524118)

"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?"

Considering Windows98 is stable and mature and most of the P1s, P11s and older threes still run Windows98 just fine, stopping support for a very common version of windows will cost you customers. Also there are alot of small businesses with networks that have switched back to windows98 for their desktops because of ongoing horrendous security problems with XP. So it all depends on who you are marketing your software to.

Let the browser "try" (5, Insightful)

EEBaum (520514) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524127)

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.

Re:Let the browser "try" (2, Insightful)

Mancat (831487) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524190)

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.

Was having the same problem... (-1, Troll)

rolandog (834340) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524135)

I was having the same doubts as I began remodeling my blog and I decided to include support for the major browsers (Firefox, IE6, Opera, Netscape...) I don't have to mention Konqueror or other browsers because they are most certainly standards compliant.

Most sites will break down in IE5 for Macs.

Lets hope that the book that Cliff is writing [slashdot.org] is completed soon enough, so that stupidity levels lower and people can start taking care of their own systems. This last sentence has given me a novel idea:

People should require having a license to use a computer. To acquire one, they should simply keep a computer for testing purpose 'alive' for a month or so. If it gets 'ill' (catches a virus, or any sort of malware), they shouldn't get a license.

Re:Was having the same problem... (1)

rolandog (834340) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524168)

Ok, seems like sleep deprivation caused me to drift away. Anyhow, you don't need to support obsolete browsers. But I guess from Firefox 1.0.7, and from IE6 and up,... you're good to go. Right now, browsers shouldn't be able to be distributed unless they firmly comply with some standards. The acid2 test is a nice, strong test for browsers.

It's a math problem (3, Insightful)

aiken_d (127097) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524143)

(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

Firefox, IE, opera, That's it? (1)

patcito (932676) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524144)

How about Safari and konqueror?

Re: Firefox, IE, opera, That's it? (2, Informative)

patcito (932676) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524209)

For you information:
http://www.upsdell.com/BrowserNews/stat.htm [upsdell.com]

KHTML based : 2.9%
Opera : .4%

so before considering about IE1 and 2 you should consider these great KHTML browsers first.

Basic Web Levels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14524149)

The basic level is IE 5+, NS 6+ (and assume NS 4 never existed). If you develop in Firefox odds are most of it will work cross browser nicely; just correct for nuances in the different versions of IE (and to be more complete include Safari and Opera, although they're smaller shares and should require minimal work if you stick to standards).

A site I was doing for IE 5+ and NS 6+ just happened to work in the new Opera (8.5 I think) and there was some pretty funky javascript going on there too.

I used to work for a giant pharmaceutical... (1)

Jharish (101858) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524152)

And they were running things like Windows 3.11 and Novell 3.12 until 99. I talked to a friend there and he said they still have over 200 MS Mail servers for legacy support.

Companies like this will often pay huge amounts of money to software manufacturers to keep supporting their products because many times it's cheaper than upgrading, or there is something specific they need done.

I still remember the old medical database they were running from the 80s. They hired six engineers from the now-defunct company to continue supporting it.

I wish I could remember the name of it, but I worked there over 10 years ago now.

So the answer to your question is similar to what others have already said. If a customer is willing to pay you to support IE 3 then go for it. But otherwise, when a product is EOL, you generally have an excuse not to support it.

Time horizon (3, Interesting)

vandelais (164490) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

When Should You Stop Support for Software? (3, Funny)

GeorgeMcBay (106610) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524170)


When Should You Stop Support for Software?


Whenever I feel like it. GOSH!

Depends on your target market (1)

Eesh (50408) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524173)

This may not exactly be the case with websites, but with software, the answer is (For me) "it depends". For example, I've written a program that's used on accounting and point-of-sale computers, many of which still use Win98SE, so I have to support it, work around its quirks and bugs, whatever. You can't tell a client he has to upgrade, he'll just go to your competition.

I am, however, quite stern about system updates. As far as I'm concerned, unless there's some expecially delicate update (Like XPSP2, or the few buggy MS fixes in the past), there's no excuse not to update for 99% of computers. If it works for you, great, but if you call me for support - I better not find out you had VB6 runtimes from the stonage, no VBScript, or whatever. Especially when I specify my program's dependencies (With links to the files on MS's website!).

As for websites - I try to make things simple and server-sided as possible anyway. I test on IE6 and latest Ff.

Lynx? Naw, it's now "differently useful." (1)

Crash Culligan (227354) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524174)

I'm on a Powerbook G4 armed with both Dreamweaver and GoLive. (What can I say? For a while I had very low overhead and could afford extravagances like that). And I have a droplet that launches Terminal and fires up lynx pointed at the test files created by either program.

See, funny thing about lynx: it's useful precisely because it doesn't show graphics, style sheets, and fancy web technologies. View your site in a text-only browser like lynx first, and then you'll know how other people using non-graphical browsers. This means not just lynx, but braille or speech browsers used by the blind. If after launching your site in lynx you find you can't get around in it or can't find links, then guess what? Neither can they.

It's not a perfect guarantee of accessibility, but it's a great head-start. You'll still want to keep your favorite tools on hand, but right now lynx is cheaper than Bobby.

Supporting old tech costs money (1)

scdeimos (632778) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524186)

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 page on the site.

Should we waste time acquiring an old PPC (we're talking Performa-style here), installing the matching MacOS on it with the Internet-enabler and then trying to find a matching version of MS-IE (which even MS doesn't support any more) to install just to see why this happens? How much would this cost in hardware, software and man-hours? How can you justify it?

There's a point where you must say, "Sorry, unsupported." Where that is for you, only you can say.

Lowest Common Denominator (1)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524191)

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% of the population. From a business standpoint, is it worth it to your company?

What's Microsoft got do do with it? (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524198)

Do you care whether Microsoft still supports something? Don't you really care whether your customers need access to your business? You decide which potential customers will not be able to use your services or business.

Try to understand your customers (1)

19061969 (939279) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524200)

I'm sure you've considered this already, but there is no substitute for looking at what your customers use. Do you have any access to stats about your customers? If so, you may find that the data are worth a lot, even in the development process. Perhaps you find that all your customers are using FireFox and nothing else (which would simplify things). Then of course, there is the argument to follow W3 standards to ensure but that's not too convincing when your mortgage payments depend on it. I guess it depends on how much your customers mean to you in comparison to how much you mean to them.

On my site (which is a usability site) Netscape versions before 5 cover 8% of my visits. This might not add up to a large number, but try to imagine a shop where a security guard stopped entry to one in every 12 people because, say, their shoes were too old. How long do you think that security guard would last in their job? Looking at these stats, I have to try and support Netscape's 3 and 4, but my IE3 numbers are quite low. Of course, I would do what I could to encourage them to change, even though the presence of these dinosaurs implies that they cannot be changed over for modern versions.

Having said that, if you are too accomodating, then they might get p****d off if you just cannot support IE4 on Win95 anymore. I think it's reasonable for them to expect IE 5 to be supported as you say, and IE1 is silly, but where is the line drawn?

I always liked the interface for IE3 and have a soft spot for it btw.

Support what?! (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524204)

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 latest and greatest version of Windows. Go figure.

That is the beauty of standards (1)

shitzu (931108) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524223)

If you stick to standards closely enough and are reasonable enough, you dont need to support them all. You will get a nice layout with modern browsers via CSS and a decently usable text site for older browsers that dont like CSS. Most of HTML standards are backwards compatible.

Of course, if you will make a nested table monster you are screwed.

The oldest version supported against attack. (1)

ScrewTivo (458228) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524228)

I start with, once vulnerabilities for a given OS or browser are identified and xyz corp says upgrade to next version to get protection then that is the cut off. If they mfg won't support it then I do not. Most people here know that vicious attacks have helped software companies more than hurt them. They were under the pressure of "old version works good enough for me" till the black hats came out and forced people to upgrade not for new user features, but just fixing things broken in the first place.

I do admit I have some sites that do not adhere to this policy explicitly. Life is complicated and this comment box is small.

Turn it around (1)

slashdot.org (321932) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524235)

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 all, what good is your website going to be if you have to abandon it after you spent all your money on making the website viewable by 100% of the people instead of on things that make better business sence.

Additionally, you have to keep in mind also that even though you can look at server logs and see what percentage of hits were by a certain browser; most people will have access to multiple machines, and if your website is interesting enough, even though they can't get to it with Lynx, they will probably get around to looking at it with Firefox at some point.

Stop when it isn't worth it. (1)

cgenman (325138) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524241)

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 file? Is it available in English, Spanish, Hebrew, and Mandarin? How does it look in low-rez on WebTV? On Cell Phones? You're already blocked off from large portions of the population anyway... all you can do is design to standards, check with the major points of compatibility, and release. If 3% of people can't get to your site, and they're not the particular 3% that you are trying to target, then it isn't that big of a deal.

If you can get that last few percent easily, then go for it. If not, delaying releasing the site just makes it unavailable to the other 97% of your users.

Free or paid? (1)

ktakki (64573) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524243)

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 companies in the SMB sector are usually reluctant to upgrade unless the computer goes into failure mode (lately, bad capacitors on motherboards have been making the decision for our clients).

On the other hand, when developing web sites, we try to be compliant with the more recent browsers (IE 4+/Netscape 4+, Mozilla/Firefox, Opera, Safari), though we do add alt tags to images, avoid frames, and check our work in lynx (I'm concerned about ADA compliance and access to blind users with screenreaders). Our clients usually don't have any clue about browser versions and accesibility; it's our job to make things work.

Bottom line: if you pay me, I'll support DOS 3.2. But if you're browsing one of our sites with Mosaic 0.99, prepare to be disappointed, unless you're a client that's willing to pay to have us write a script to detect your user agent and serve a circa 1993 site for your ancient browser. It's all about the Benjamins in the contract support business.

k.

Cost/Benefit (1)

Col. Klink (retired) (11632) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524248)

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).

web logs are your friend (1)

smash (1351) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524253)

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.

Use Web Standards (1)

Ranger (1783) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524262)

My 2 kopeks. If you use web standards you won't have to worry about supporting older browsers. If a site is designed correctly the CSS will degrade gracefully. See Zeldman's [zeldman.com] and Meyer's [meyerweb.com] work. As for supporting older software, as long as someone is paying you enough to support it then it's worth it.

Costs vs. gain (1)

Johnny Mnemonic (176043) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524267)

When the customers you would lose by not supporting a browser don't purchase enough from you to justify the costs in supporting those browsers. Period. (Rep might be worth something, particularly looking forward.)

If you can't associate particular browser usage with specific revenue amounts, and/or quantify the cost to support a given browser, to make those decisions, that's why God gave us MBAs.

According to my standards... (1)

diamondmagic (877411) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524275)

I only develop websites for the very latest browsers. This means Lynx and Safari-- but NOT IE-for-mac or Netscape. Nor do I use ANY browser detection (only feature detection). Anyone using anything less will just need to cross their fingers and hope it works.

Easy question for your marketting department (1)

MerlynEmrys67 (583469) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524277)

You stop supporting a version of software when the cost of supporting it is higher than the incremental sales you get from supporting it.

Somehow I am betting you are way past that with your current testing - but who knows

What Kind Of Support? (1)

CarnivorousCoder (872609) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524284)

It depends on what you mean by "support" for older browsers. If you're looking for pixel perfection on every "supported" browser then it's mostly about how much it costs you in time and money to do that. Can you afford to make your webpage look and act the same in IE 6.x and 1.x?

If, on the other hand, "support" means "usable" then I would take a lesson from Dan Cederholm, author of Bulletproof Web Design [simplebits.com] (a great read, BTW!) He advocates using lean, semantically meaningful (X)HTML. All of the style is maintained separately in stylesheets. You give up pixel perfection, but you end up with web pages that look good in modern browsers, are usable by the visually impared, easier to maintain, and (most importantly) degrade gracefully even to the point where they are usable by the lowliest of browsers (i.e. PDAs, cell phones, webtv, etc.)

Support what customers actually use, duh! (1)

Eric Smith (4379) | more than 8 years ago | (#14524287)

Obviously, going (for example) down to IE 1 is crazy, but is IE 3 crazy?
Yes, it is. Q: How many people still running IE3 are likely to buy your product or service online? A: None. Anyhow, design your web site to meet the HTML and CSS standards (no IE proprietary extensions), and it will work for nearly 100% of web browsers, though the older ones (including IE3) may not provide as pretty a presentation.
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