UK government wakes up to Firefox

UK government wakes up to Firefox

Summary: With software company Autodesk also pledging to make at least one of its products compatible with Firefox, the days of IE-only Web sites could be numbered


The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) has pledged to make its Web sites compatible with as many browsers as possible, including the popular open source browser Firefox.

Carl Mawson, the head of e-communications at the DWP, said on Wednesday that "we are very much aware of the widening range of browsers used by our customers, such as Firefox and Opera. We aim to address this, so that our Web sites work in as many browsers, and on as many platforms as possible."

At present, the job search feature on the Jobcentreplus Web site does not work in the Firefox browser as the lists of job groups, types and titles are not populated when the search page is opened.

Mawson said that the DWP aims to fix this feature in the second half of this year.

"The Jobcentre Plus Web site itself does work using non-IE browsers such as Firefox. However, the job vacancy search element does not. It is however being redesigned to be compatible with non-IE browsers and we aim to deliver this towards the end of the year. This is as part of our ongoing commitment to developing widely accessible Web content, and also in response to customer comments," he said.

The DWP is not the only organisation that is keen to add Firefox support. Software company Autodesk said on Thursday that it is working on Firefox support for MapGuide, a product that allows companies to distribute GIS applications on the Web. "We consider Firefox support to be essential and are working on it for the next version of MapGuide," said an Autodesk spokesman.

This appears to be a change in policy for Autodesk. Earlier this month, one ZDNet UK reader claimed that Autodesk was unwilling to add support for non-IE browsers.

"My city has a very useful parcel map site that is based on certain Autodesk software. The Autodesk software is compatible only with IE. I talked to Autodesk about the issue; their rep said Autodesk has chosen not to make a version that works with other browsers," said the reader, in a ZDNet UK talkback discussing Firefox's recent apparent loss of market share.

It is uncertain whether Autodesk plans to add Firefox support to other products. For example, its DWF Viewer product, which allows users to view and print DWF files, is only compatible with IE. Autodesk employee Scott Sheppard said on the Autodesk forum in July that it has no plans to add Firefox support for this product at present.

"The data we collect suggests that Internet Explorer is still widely prevalent," said Sheppard in the forum posting. "Although it is possible for Autodesk to support other browsers, it does involve a fair amount of work. For example, Autodesk and Apple are undertaking that work for the Macintosh. There are a fair number of Macintosh users who wish to view DWF files. The Firefox/Mozilla customer base has not yet reached a similar critical mass."

Firefox's market share has significantly increased over the last year, with Web analytics firm claiming the open source browser has increased from 2.1 percent in May 2004 to 8.7 percent in April 2005. Firefox appears to have grabbed even more market share in Europe, with 30 percent, 24 percent and 22 percent of Web surfers using the open source browser in Finland, Germany and Hungary respectively. Most of this increase in market share has been at the expense of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, although one report earlier this month found that Internet Explorer had clawed back some market share from Firefox.

There are a number of other organisations that have recently updated their Web site to make sure it works with Firefox. Since May, the Web site of electrical retailer Powerhouse no longer excludes Firefox users and since June the Web site of English Heritage no longer forces Firefox users to use a non-graphical version of the site, according to Web site testing company SciVisum.

But some companies appear to still be reluctant to update their Web sites to make sure they work on Firefox. The Web site of cinema chain Odeon does not allow Firefox users to open the main part of the Web site, preventing users from booking cinema tickets.

"The Odeon Web site can be viewed by Firefox users by clicking on the 'text version' option on the home page. This includes all necessary information, including film times and booking," said an Odeon spokeswoman.

The Odeon spokeswoman was unable to comment on whether it had any plans to make the site compatible with Firefox.

Topic: Apps

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  • It interesting too see the references to adding support for non-IE browsers, when what they're really talking about is adding support for web standards. The very standards they are meant to following anyway according to eGIF.
  • The webmasters/decision makers of those companies and government bodies that make their sites solely compatible with IE only demonstrate their stupidity and lack insight and understanding of the internet. Governments and the DWP in particular, should know better. Personally I just vote with my feet, and go elsewhere. But then I dont need those sites. There are those that do. Like my son who cannot buy a windows license because he doesnt have a job, and he cant access the Job Centre website from his linux/firefox box...of course he can get round it by using the some other computer or something, but why should he?
  • It's good to see that Microsoft's stranglehold on the browser, and therefore the web application market, is being broken. As long as their new "Smart Clients" (think Java Web-Start for an existing solution) don't take over I can see a more open web for all.

    I don't see Autodesk as having much choice. Google Maps is cross browser, and it can be used for GIS applications. Google may charge for commercial usage, but obviously their cross browser support as well as their brand name is a huge selling point.
  • Interesting dilemma. Managers that are stuck on IE face the possibility that in time their customers will find competitive sites that are more to their liking. Until then they save time and money by only maintaining a single browser specific website. But if they react to late to changing market trends (some of) there customers will already have walked away and are thus not likely to return.

    However. IE7 will one day come and the question is what kind of impact that'll have of market trends. It's for certain that some will want to make the most use of IE7 as fast as they can. But a significant amount will stick to IE6 (also because their OS simply doesn't support IE7). And it's also likely that future Windows OS won't tolerate IE6.

    So managers stuck on IE will have to maintain multiple single browser websites sooner or later. One for IE6 and one for IE7. Or maybe put in extra effort to maintain a single website that somewhat can handle both at the loss of that what still needs to be (constantly) determined. But in a way that won't let (too many of) their customers walk away.

    In short. It's more then likely that a growing number of companies will have to maintain multiple browser specific websites sooner or later. The question is when they want to dive into the learning curve to come out experienced and prepared some time later. And with what product(s) they want to start that learning curve.

    Another question is if they shouldn't find common ground between IE7, IE6 with some add-on and alternative browsers. In other words, maintain a single industry standard website rather then a single vendor certain browser version website. Or several of such sites at the same time.

    I would prefer a single industry standard (which could represent multiple formats, styles and what not) website that works the same for most in one go and providing text-only or something much less feature rich for the significantly less rest. That way I should be able to balance maintenance cost versus market share the best.

    So all those vendors of web browsers need to do is to agree on an industry standard that's free to use and stick to it until at least most of them (say, representing 95%+ of total market share) can move on to a new agreed upon industry standard that's only backward compatible with the previous version.

    Yes, that also means that those vendors will have to think hard about dealing with possible security issues and aspects right from the start. Which is what we want. Lasting secure, industry standard, functionality that doesn't cost an arm and a leg (to maintain) but works well with (future and previous) others.
  • I don't understand why so many professional websites seem to be trying to gain publicity and almost being proud of the fact that they are making changes so that their site looks the same in every browser.


    I know whenever people I know make websites compatability is quite a big issue and they nail it before it gets too much.

    The people who get paid to do the websites for these companies should be fined by their clients for NOT making them multibrowser supported in the first place.
  • I use Firefox at home, and think it is a much better browser than IE. I get really annoyed with businesses that do not support this browser properly. They seem to feel that it is not worth the effort for supporting what appears to be a small market share.

    However, the people that are using Firefox are more likely to be techincally minded, and may even be using several different computers with different operating systems installed on them. These people are the most likely customers of your service, they are not those people who blindly use Microsoft products because everybody else does.

    The wake up call is comming though. With the advent of the Mac mini, and the possibility of Intel based Apples in the near future, it may be the situation shortly where customers cannot use the latest version of IE, as it isn't available for their operating system.
  • The odeon website is also the very worst corporate website I've ever seen.

    The developers should be shot.
  • I don't think the discussion should by around IE / non-IE.

    The real issue is: The Standards!

    They exist! They should be respected by anyone who designs, creates and administrates websites!
  • Great! Now please fix your website.
  • This site has been unavailable to all but IE users since they upgraded to the all new, all dancing version installed late November 2003! Since then I have been in regular contact with this useless department pointing out that the changes required to make it useable by everyone are not rocket science. All you get back is a load of dross about cost-effectiveness, and thorough testing. As I pointed out to them, if they are worried about cost-effectiveness then you don't run Windows, as for testing, hope it proves better than the last upgrade in 2003. That one didn't even conform to the most basic standards, the print out from the page checker was quite funny!
    It must be something to do with the padded white cells they have them working in! Maybe DWP should stand for Don't Work Programmers!
  • Like I said before. Managers will have to coupe with multiple browser versions (e.g: IE6, IE7) sooner or later. It's up to them if they rather want to support a single (true) industry standard or various browser versions. One thing that those managers will need to think about is: what will their competition do? You see, once the customers are in the position to decide they can only follow. Think about that. If you really think this through then only one logical conclusion pops up. We all need a true industry (not vendor specific; e.g. some standard with strings attached) standard.