It feels very good developing applications with the latest features in modern browsers. Nevertheless, we as developers from developed countries live in beautiful and colorful bubbles thinking that everybody has access to modern web browsers and that the common people are tech savvy as we are. We cannot be more wrong!
First, let me say that I am from the Dominican Republic, a third world country (an underdeveloped country / developing country as new textbooks call it). I know from experience the painful situations of a third world country, and how the web is used in different scenarios.
I am going to explain some scenarios on why people have outdated browsers or machines and why we should care. I am going to focus on all the examples based on a third world country. Remember, there are more developing countries than rich ones so it takes a larger part of the global population and we need to be careful about it. Furthermore, since the Dominican Republic does not have (or invest in) the resources to keep accurate data about internet, web, and browsers, I will be discussing my experience there without the data to back it up.
They Cannot Afford New Machines
Common people that have computers in the Dominican Republic make a big sacrifice to buy a brand new computer that has to last at least 7 years to make their money worth it. Keep in mind that the minimum wage in the Dominican Republic is around 170 dollars a month. So, a cheap PC for basic browsing costs more than several months of work for a working Dominican family.
If a family has one computer, then they will try to use it until the computer breaks and there are no benefits repairing it. Even if they want to install the latest version of the browser, there are good changes that their OS is not supported anymore and browser vendors are not shipping updates. I know a lot of people that still use Windows XP and their computers are not powerful enough to upgrade. They might know that there are Linux alternatives with fewer requirements; however, Linux in general, has a big learning curve and most people get frustrated just during the installation.
Internet Cafes are Still a Thing
Yes, there are a lot of people that still use Internet Cafes. This is the only way they have to access to the web and access to their emails. Those Cafes have outdated equipment and let’s face it, it is a business and a business without resources. What is not broken for them, does not need to be fixed. Many of them are still running Windows XP with IE7 or IE6. Some Cafes are running a proprietary software built for Internet Cafe management that has a built-in browser, and usually, those built-in browsers are very outdated or require a particular version of IE. They cannot update everything and then figure out that their internet cafe management does not work anymore.
Public Schools Have Very Old Computers (If any)
Most of the schools in the Dominican Republic are run by the government. As the government does not have all the resources to provide computers to most of the schools, the schools themselves look for a way to get computers for the classroom. This includes doing raffles, asking for donations to celebrities, companies, parents, etc. When I was in high school in 1996 for example, my school gave 20 tickets to each student to sell for a raffle in order to get money to build a computer lab. The computers bought at that time were already outdated with only MS-DOS as OS. Those computers were still used when I graduated in 1999 and years after.
In the early 2000’s, I was teaching computer classes as a volunteer in a small school in Santo Domingo. Those computers were 10 years old, and the school did not have the resources to upgrade or replace them. Thus, the only thing I could do at the time was fixing a broken computer using parts of existing computers. So, if there were 3 computers that were not working, I tried to use pieces from all 3 to build one that as functioning. As I keep contact with the school, they have told me that they have changed all the computers years ago. However, the computers that they use today are at least 10 years old with dated operating systems.
Usually, we like to blame the users for not upgrading their browser. There are developers arguing that if people have outdated browsers, it is their fault and responsibility. However, we have to use context and know who is using the computer and how. Those students in public schools don’t have another way to access the web. The browser or the computer they are using should not be an excuse or obstacle for them to perform their tasks and do their work. Their knowledge depends on how accessible we build websites and our future depend on their knowledge to continue where we left.
Some Companies Don’t Care
Companies buy equipment based on their needs. Usually, those needs are based on the software they need in order to keep the business running. If the computer still does the job, why buy new hardware or software that might require a new OS and extra costs. Thus, they won’t invest in something that does not add any value to the company. Also, most companies see the web as a way for the workers to waste time online away from their duties.
Some Use Cracked versions of Windows
A lot of people use Windows as their OS. However, some of them downloaded it illegally and have blocked any type of updates that can break their computers. Thus, new updates and versions of browsers like Edge are never going to be available. I am not going to go into the details of why you should not crack a proprietary OS. But, it is good to know that some poor countries are able to use paid software by downloading it illegally.
The IT Department does Not Allow it
Even if the company cares, it all depends on the IT department and the software they need to support. Some IT departments are lazy and don’t want to update anything on the fear of breaking something or just don’t want to touch it because “it works”. Another reason is the software developed in house or bought at a high price that uses proprietary features of IE. The IT department is forced to avoid upgrading because the application running on their servers was optimized for an early version of IE.
The User Does Not Know Anything About It
The common user does not know (ignore) about security and we can see this by the way they allow elected officials to create laws to dig into their data. Also, it shows in the amount of software they install without questioning the source. Furthermore, some users don’t know anything about why to update the browser or how to do it. Most of them go with the browser that is installed on their machines by default.
Before jumping into judging users that have outdated browsers and operating systems, we need to see the reasons behind it. I bet that all users want the shiniest and fastest computer with the latest web browsers. However, some of them cannot afford new machines and are stuck with years old computers that still work. Thus, if the computer still works, they should be able to access the web and get a good user experience and we should try to provide it. Think of a lot of students in third world countries that use Internet Cafes or computer lab at school in order to research and do their homework. Those students cannot afford a new PC in order to do their work. But, the work done in the cheap computer might be the key to a better education and better life in the future.