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Thursday, June 23, 2005

BBC NEWS | Technology | Websites alienate Firefox users

BBC NEWS | Technology | Websites alienate Firefox users Websites alienate Firefox users
One in 10 UK websites fail to work properly on the open source Firefox web browser, a study shows.

Some 100 leading consumer sites were assessed by web-testing firm SciVisum.

Websites that proved difficult for Firefox users to navigate included the government website and the cinema site

Firefox is an open source alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer and has proved popular since its launch in November last year.

While most people still use Microsoft's browser, Firefox is slowly making inroads.

Its share of the browser market grew to 8% in May, up from 5.59% at the beginning of the year, according to US-based analysts NetApplications.

Microsoft IE's share of the market dropped to 87.23% in May, compared to 90.31% in January.

Question of code

Of the websites that SciVisum tested, 3% were found to be turning away non Internet Explorer (IE) users and 7% of the sites included non-standard code recognised only by Microsoft's browser.

Companies who value their brand need to address browser issues immediately
Deri Jones, SciVisum
"Surprisingly, after all these years, users of standard-compliant browsers are still faced with sites that do not support their browser or with a link suggesting they download Internet Explorer," said Deri Jones, chief executive of SciVisum.

This is largely because web developers are used to testing their sites just using IE rather than so-called standards-compliant browsers, which only use code ratified by the World Wide Web consortium.

"There is a certain business logic to this as IE is the most widely used browser," said Mr Jones.

Microsoft is working on a new version of IE, largely in response to the success of Firefox.

Disabled access

"Companies who value their brand need to address browser issues immediately," said Mr Jones.

British American Tobacco
Source: SciVisum
Web developers who create code around the web standards recommended by the World Wide Web stand to gain more than just friends among the alternative browser community.

It will also make it easier for disabled people to use, said Mr Jones.

"Over time developers have begun to misuse the original standards created for the web to create websites that look great to you and I, but are confusing to a disabled person using a screen reader which needs to make sense of the content," he said.

Simplifying things by separating content from presentation will have a third benefit in that it will make it easier for sites to be picked up by search engines, he added.

Some improvements

The Odeon website, which is listed by SciVisum as one of the culprits, has already come in for criticism about how accessible the site is for disabled users.

While its opening page seemed to work fine using Firefox, testers were faced with a blank page when they tried to enter the site.

An Odeon spokesperson said: "Firefox users can enter the site and get all the information about cinema listings and screening times, just without the bells and whistles of the fancier site.

"Instead of using the Enter button, they should use the text-only version."

On the Jobcentreplus site, testers were unable to use the search facility, while gave the impression that it was broken despite the fact that it did actually work with the Firefox browser.

The British American Tobacco website hid most of its pages from Firefox users as the menu system did not show choices if visitors are not using IE.

Some sites had made improvements. Electrical retailer Powerhouse initially excluded Firefox users when it launched its new website design in May, but it has since fixed the problem.

And English Heritage no longer sends Firefox browser users to a non-graphical version of the site.

Firefox has been created by the Mozilla Foundation which was started by former browser maker Netscape back in 1998.

The group is an open source organisation which means that the creators of the browser are happy for others to play around with the core code for the program.

Firefox is proving popular because, at the moment, it has far fewer security holes than Internet Explorer and has some innovations lacking in Microsoft's program.
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