Another browser release, another SAP sob story

SAP's support for modern browsers in its applications is historically terrible. Recently it has gotten broader with partial support for Firefox, Safari (on Mac only), and Chrome, as well as somewhat newer versions of IE, but support for recent versions of browsers is lacking.

This strategy made some modicum of sense in the past, when SAP's primary market of large enterprises was using IE6 almost exclusively. But now enterprises are moving into the 21st century browser landscape, bring-your-own-device policies are becoming more prevalent, and SAP is making attempts to branch out into consumer and SME application. It is well past time for SAP to shake off the 20th century and take a modern stance in its browser support strategy.

What does a modern browser support strategy look like?

To address SAP's biggest present issue, SAP must start to warn, not block. If an "unsupported" browser attempts to access content display a warning; don't block access. If security or data integrity is susceptible to browser issues, then the application has been designed incorrectly. Any correctly designed application should be able to safely attempt display in any browser. Once we have gotten this far, graceful degradation, progressive enhancement, and broad-based browser testing programs are all strategies to improve the experience in alternative browsers.

SAP's penchant for browser blocking is especially egregious given the scenario described above on Twitter. Not only do we need to wait for SAP to update its software to support new browsers - a process which takes far too long given the pace of modern browser releases, generally lagging release by 3+ months. We also must wait for an IT department to update on-premise software.

The move to cloud-based applications alleviates this issue to some extent. But it doesn't exactly inspire confidence when SAP's flagship cloud applications don't support Chrome or Safari or use frameworks that won't be supported in the upcoming version of the Windows OS (both Business ByDesign and the SAP Store use the Silverlight framework).

As of late 2011, SAP plans to move its applications away from the Silverlight and Flash frameworks and adopt web standards like HTML, CSS, and Javascript (I can't bring myself to write "HTML5" without scare-quotes) as well as native applications where appropriate as a its go-forward user interface strategy. While it is late to the party, it is good that SAP recognizes the issue at a high level. Now it's time for SAP to dictate proper browser strategy down to the application level with urgency. Otherwise SAP may find itself relegated to selling to the dinosaurs of the customer pool.