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There are numerous examples of the verb support meaning "to be capable of":

  • IE9 supports HTML5.
  • The database doesn’t support transactions.
  • The GPS navigator supports spoken voice directions.

I wonder if this use is understood by a less techy audience. Could you say, for example:

  • The vacuum cleaner supports HEPA filters.
  • Volvo cars support ABS.
  • The dishwasher supports water temperatures between 30 and 60 °C.
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None of your alternative usages would be normal. Also note that supports doesn't really mean is capable of Y - it means something more like allows Y to function. MS Windows, for example, supports multiple processors. But only if you actually have them in your computer - they don't come free with the OS. – FumbleFingers Nov 14 '11 at 20:18
Anyone familiar with computer language will understand "support" in this context, but I don't know if it is valid English. – Irene Nov 14 '11 at 20:20
Personally, I'm not sure OP's The GPS navigator supports spoken voice directions is really acceptable either, but I can't exactly specify why that is. – FumbleFingers Nov 14 '11 at 22:56
I googled "GPS navigator supports". Apparently, they can also support MP3, automatic geotagging of photos, and 3D hardware acceleration :) – Danko Durbić Nov 14 '11 at 23:08
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Support in the sense of “allow the use of” is computing jargon. Outside of computing devices and software, it is likely to be understood to refer to structural or moral support, which will create confusion.

Reference: Oxford Dictionaries

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It is now a familiar phrasing and might be recognized, but I don't know if your examples quite fit. To better describe features to users, you should look for a more specific and familiar word to fit the relationship when possible. Rather than supporting ABS, Volvos have or feature ABS. A browser, on the other hand, doesn't have HTML5 until it loads a web page that contains it, nor does it necessarily even require HTML5. The browser supports or is compatible with HTML5. The browser also requires an operating system from a specific list. The dishwasher requires a water temperature within a certain range. The vacuum cleaner might be the best example: Would one use the vacuum cleaner without the HEPA filter? If so, it could be called optional. Either way, to borrow the tech vernacular you might say that it supports HEPA Filters with the model numbers A34 or G15-B.

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There can be a slight difference in nuance between supports and is capable of. (Even though this nuance is not always used.)

In many technical contexts "x supports y" implies that the use of y with x is intended. This means that tech support will help with problems encountered while using y with x; or that if y does not work properly with x, it will be considered a bug in x.

"x is capable of y" on the other hand, only denotes that using y with x seems to work without implying whether it is by accident or by design.

Let me give you a real world example: I was able to play a particular computer game, even though its box said the game did not support my graphics card. However, had I encountered problems, tech support would have refused to help me.

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