Google's dump-IE8 move backs Windows XP users into corner

But Microsoft at fault, too, for not letting XP users run newer IE9

Google has put Windows XP users in a tight spot by dropping support for Internet Explorer 8 (IE8), analysts said today.

The search giant's decision also smacks of competitive pushiness, one expert added, and will be seen by some Windows users as a bald attempt to get them to switch browsers to Google's own Chrome.

Last week, Google announced it will drop support for IE8 for its online apps and services on Nov. 15. The move was dictated by a policy that the company adopted last year, which mandates that it support only the current edition of a browser and its immediate precursor.

After Microsoft releases IE10 in late October, IE8 heads to the chopping block.

"It's hard to dismiss the thought that this is intended to hit Microsoft where it hurts by exploiting its decision not to support XP with its new browsers," said Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC.

Hilwa was referring to Microsoft's oft-criticized decision to not support Windows XP with IE9, the browser that launched in March 2009. IE10, meanwhile, will not run on XP or Vista, making it Windows 7- and Windows 8-only.

"In the past, Google has seen that as an opportunity to exploit Microsoft's position on IE support for XP," Hilwa continued. "Now, it apparently sees an even bigger opportunity to switch users to its browser."

Microsoft's decision to not let Windows XP run IE9 put users in an awkward spot: They were looking at an IE dead end, with IE8, the one Google will dump this fall, XP's final version.

Microsoft has been hammered since the March 2009 debut of IE9 for not offering the browser to XP users.

Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, saw Google's desire to push Chrome playing a part in the IE8 ditching.

"They're offering a browser that's more up-to-date, that integrates better with their own services," said Miller of Google's recommendation that IE8 users switch to another browser, with Chrome among the obvious options. "Microsoft may lose these people [IE8 users] to Chrome, at least for a while," Miller added.

Unlike Google's retirement of IE7 last year, the dropping of IE8 has major implications because of that browser's continued strength and its association with Windows XP, which also remains a major player.

IE8 was the most widely-used browser edition in the world last month, with a usage share of 25%, according to Net Applications. Of those who ran IE, nearly half, or 47%, ran IE8.

Windows XP is in an even stronger spot, with a usage share of 42.5%, second-most in the world and just behind the 42.8% share of the three-year-old Windows 7.

By retiring IE8, Google will affect XP users who cannot switch browsers, especially those in businesses and other organizations locked into a Microsoft-made browser by IT policy.

And that's the crux, said Miller. "This is just the foretelling of a larger elephant in the room," said Miller. "The reality of it is that XP is not disappearing."

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