All that’s old is new again. Over the holidays we got not one, but three signs that the browser wars are alive and well in 2015. They appear to be in one of their cyclical, heating-up phases. Today we’ll focus on how Yahoo, Mozilla, and Google are prompting users with false upgrade warnings to switch browsers in what amounts to a forced upgrade. A term in the new Yahoo/Mozilla deal is the not so subtle effort Yahoo is now making to goad their email users into tossing whatever browser they currently use and upgrade to Firefox. Google is doing something similar for different strategic reasons. Each (Yahoo and Google) is pressuring their webmail user base to move over to either Chrome or Firefox by reading what’s known as the web user’s browser user agent string and then prompting them with a conditionally-surfaced upgrade warning that implies that things won’t work right unless said user switches browsers. (The user agent string is a piece of code that identifies a browser by its type.) When someone using a browser that isn’t Firefox for Yahoo email they trigger an update pushdown message. Google web product users get something that looks like the image below. (Google products mistakenly identify Maxthon as a version of Chrome because both browsers use Webkit as a rendering engine.) This is the kind of user mail we started receiving the day Yahoo implemented the Firefox ‘forced upgrade.’“Since purchasing a new laptop with Windows 8.1, I am not able to use enhanced Yahoo email using Maxthon. I keep getting a message saying I am using an unsupported browser, and instructions to download Firefox. I am a big fan of Maxthon and have been using it for over 9 years. But the above is an issue I need to get resolved…Yahoo keeps taking me back to Basic Mail which has no features at all.”
Let’s get one thing straight: there is no technical reason you should have to use Firefox to use the new Yahoo email. Nor do you need a ‘supported’ browser like Chrome to use Google’s web products. In a word, all of that ‘you need to upgrade to a supported browser‘ messaging is bullshit. It has nothing to do with technology.