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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.unnamed (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.

Maxthon uses the same open source rendering and javascript engine code base that just about every other web browser also uses: WebKit and V8.  However, that’s not what Yahoo and Google would have you believe. In Yahoo’s case, they are proactively redirecting you to their older webmail product to FORCE you to upgrade and use Firefox. (As our 9 year customer laments…It’s either upgrade to Firefox or not be able to use the new Yahoo mail. ) It has been interesting to watch both Yahoo and Google wise up and start using this tactic but it’s not hard for anyone in the industry to understand why. Yahoo’s growth has been stagnant and slipping for years. It hasn’t weathered the shift to mobile and apps well.  In a world of apps and mobile, Yahoo remains a big bunch of noisy, over-stuffed websites. Google, certainly far from desperate 🙂 ,  is trying to solve a slightly different problem: unifying the experience behind a single login to be able to cross promote better. After years of fumbling around with silo-ed web products, each company finally awakened to the fact that to survive (Yahoo) and continue growing (Google) they needed to knit together their product ecosystems into a walled garden. Monkeying with browser upgrades and support is a key tool in that effort. In Yahoo’s case they’re likely getting a monetary bounty for every Firefox conversion they drive. (Or the activations offset what Yahoo has to pay Mozilla for all of the search traffic driven by Firefox.) Probably both. Probably tiered in some way.  In Google, they are growing Chrome — which gets them closer to a reality where they can drive all of the PPC and search advertising they require through their own products and thus not need to pay any search/ppc referral partners.   This ‘unsupported browser’ smokescreen is a key part of keeping those efforts on the down/low. And here’s where history repeats itself. The messaging Yahoo and Google are using with these upgrades is essentially the same argument used by Microsoft in its defense of the Netscape anti-trust suit in the late 90s.  “We have to make IE the default browser – it’s totally interwoven with the Windows operating system!  Things won’t work right if they use something other than IE. ” Ironic that Mozilla is now party to the same tactic its ‘father’ — Netscape —  labelled as unfair and anti-competitive. Those of you who are old enough to remember the DoJs’ anti-trust suit remember the crocodile tears were thick, thick, thick from Microsoft and Netscape … Next time: Microsoft’s browser strategy is far from dead…It’s baaaaaack! 🙂