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Google Reader ditches support for past browsers

Another Google property will no longer work with Internet Explorer 6. But the 2001-era browser isn't the only one whose support is ending.

Pop quiz: which company introduced a browser last September that Google now considers "antiquated"?

Answer: Google itself.

Version 3 of the Chrome browser is one of the browsers for which, starting June 1, Google is phasing out support on its Reader site. The site is used for reading Web pages whose updates are broadcast to subscribers through RSS or Atom feed technology.

"Reader is a cutting-edge Web application, and this will allow us to spend our time improving Reader instead of fixing issues with antiquated browsers," Mihai Parparita, a technical leader for Google Reader, said in a blog post this week. Reader kept Chrome 3 support longer than some sites: Google Docs dropped support for it and other older browsers on March 1.

In days of yore, browsers changed relatively slowly and were used to browse largely static Web pages. These days, however, browsers and the Web standards they employ are changing fast, developers want to be able to take advantage of newer technology such as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for formatting, and advanced programmers are building full-fledged Web applications that can be impossible to run on old browsers.

The Chrome 3 phase-out is a revealing contrast in product longevity compared with another browser on the hit list, Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6, introduced in 2001 and the scourge of Web developers who want support for modern Web standards. Even Microsoft wants to people to upgrade from IE6.

But Chrome is automatically updated in the background, without user intervention by default, and old versions fade rapidly into oblivion. Chrome 5 is the current stable version, and Chrome 3 accounted for just 0.11 percent of browser usage in April 2010, according to Net Applications statistics.

Other browsers losing Reader support are Firefox 1.0 and 2.0 and Safari 2.0 and 3.0, Google said.

Another change coming: Google is dropping Reader support for its Gears technology that among other things let a browser store Web data locally on a computer so it was available offline. "We launched offline support three years ago, but only a minority of Reader users actively use it today," Parparita said.

Browser makers are working on building Gears' offline storage abilities into nascent HTML standards, and Google has scrapped further Gears work in favor of HTML.