Google Reader is losing some features. As of June 1, Reader will no longer offer offline access and users of older browsers will see a notice suggesting they upgrade to a newer browser with support for current web standards.
The browser support change isn’t all that surprising; Google Docs made a similar change earlier this year. The main target of the policy change is Internet Explorer 6. But lest you think Google Reader is picking on Microsoft, the announcement also targets the company’s own Chrome 3, which is barely six months old.
Other browsers no longer supported include Firefox 1 and 2.0, and Safari 2.0 and 3.0.
According Mihai Parparita, a technical lead for Google Reader, the new browser requirements will enable Google Reader to spend more time on new features. “Reader is a cutting-edge web application, and this will allow us to spend our time improving Reader instead of fixing issues with antiquated browsers,” he writes on the official Reader blog.
Older web browsers aren’t the only thing Reader is leaving behind. Also like Google Docs, Reader will be ditching the Gears-powered offline support (launched back in 2007). However, unlike Google Docs, Reader won’t be replacing Gears with HTML5-based offline tools. With Reader, Google is simply dropping offline support for the time being.
Instead, the Google Reader blog suggests downloading desktop software that syncs to Reader and downloads your items. While that’s certainly one way to sync feeds and read them offline, the main point of the orginal offline support was that it worked in the browser without the need for extra desktop apps.
The Reader team claims that only a small percentage of users ever took advantage of the offline support. But for those that did, there’s really no substitute.
The good news is that the Reader team claims this bit of “Spring cleaning” will pave the way for new features and improvements in Google Reader. Without the need to support older browsers, Reader will presumably be able to take advantage of things like HTML5 and CSS 3, though so far Google has given no hints as to what any new features might entail.
In the meantime, you’ll have to switch to a syncing app if you want to read Google Reader items without a web connection. Some of the more popular ones for the iPhone/iPod are Feeds, Byline and Reeder. For the desktop, there’s FeedDemon, NetNewsWire and RSS Bandit. For Android, we like NewsRob and Feedr. Let us know about your favorite in the comments.