Many would argue that there is no excuse for software developers not to support old browsers, aka browsers that have been released more than five years ago or do not support the advanced web apps commonly used in modern websites.
Some will point out that developers should apply standards that all browsers should support, and that the whole point of well formed HTML is that it should render in any browser.
But what about security vulnerabilities commonly found in older browsers and what about the support for the rich and interactive web apps that have transformed the way we interact with websites nowadays? Shouldn’t those two reasons be enough to convince anyone to upgrade their browser? Our experience with the NHS, the major UK Heath service, has shown us that sometimes the answer is no.
JournalTOCs is used by hundreds of professionals from the NHS. Sometimes we receive enquiries from NHS librarians, who are using JournalTOCs to support the current awareness demands of their patrons. A recurrent question, made by those librarians in a rather apologetic manner, is whether JournalTOCs web pages will work and render without problems by the browser being used by many in the NHS, which is the old version 7 of the Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE7). Those librarians are pleased to learn that JournalTOCs has been developed to work with IE7 and also newer browser versions.
IE7 was released by Microsoft in October 2006. It was shipped as the default browser in Windows Vista systems and was offered as a replacement for IE 6 for Windows XP systems. IE7 was superseded by IE8 in March 2009, which in turn was replaced by IE9, released in March 2011. IE9 no longer supports Windows XP systems. IE7 is now a seven years old browser. However, it is estimated that IE7’s global market share is still 4%.
The issue becomes relevant in particular when you need to provide an external web service to NHS users. Probably a sizable chunk of the IE7 market share comes from the NHS and other departments from the UK government such as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The NHS alone has more than 800,000 workstations and laptops nationwide, where IE7 is installed by default.
Why is an organisation with the importance of the NHS letting its staff use a seven years browser that has already been superseded by two versions? And why IE only? The clue to the answer can be found by the fact that the NHS is one of those organisations that are more concerned with maintaining the stability of their major critical intranets than being compliant with external services and websites that are occasionally used by their staff. Google can be omnipresent and very important for millions of users and can afford to stop supporting old browsers (Modern browsers for modern applications) and develop its own browser, but it will not deter those organisations from continuing using a browser that is strongly interrelated with their enterprise intranets.
As long as critical NHS enterprise applications are still depending on IE7, JournalTOCs will continue supporting IE7. We understand that enterprise applications are not easy to upgrade. They deal with booking services, expense claims, corporate accounts, staffing changes, CRM systems, payroll, etc. Upgrading these expensive systems is not a trivial task. It’s one process that is full of risks. So, it makes sense that these systems are upgraded at large intervals of time, with the process being rigorously controlled and methodically run. It also makes sense that JournalTOCs should be able to be useful to staff working in the NHS and other national organisations from other countries that are in a similar situation to the NHS.