UK government websites are to continue supporting the outdated web browsers used by around five per cent of their visitors for at least the next 18 months.
The move follows research commissioned by the Government into trends in browser usage patterns by citizens accessing government websites.
Analysis of traffic to five sample websites found an overwhelming use of Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) web browser software, with versions 5 and 6 alone accounting for over 91 per cent of accesses.
It also emerged that more than five per cent of people accessing the websites were using older PC-based browsers with more limited functionality, such as versions 4 or earlier of IE and Netscape.
TV-based web browsers and internet kiosks, seen as a convenient way for citizens without internet access to use eGovernment services, accounted together for less than 0.04% of the accesses to government websites. Indeed, figures for web-enabled TVs may have been artificially inflated, given that one of the sample websites chosen was SomersetOnline, the website involved in a year-long trial into interactive TV with 700 set-top internet access boxes given free to local residents.
According to the report, one of the biggest problems for website designers is the need to ensure that web pages are rendered correctly by multiple browsers - work which adds an estimated 25 per cent, at least, onto site development costs.
To complicate matters, the Cabinet Office's e-Government Interoperability Framework - the technical specifications for government information systems - mandate support for versions 4 of IE and Netscape.
One option presented to the Government would be to drop support for these browsers and instead, make website developers produce sites which comply with standards laid down by the World Wide Web Consortium.
This would, however, positively exclude the significant numbers of users still using older browsers, in effect "forcing" them, as the report states, to "either upgrade, something they might be unwilling or unable to do, or to accept [a] more limited website experience."
Instead the report recommends that support is continued in the short term, with a further report to evaluate usage levels to be carried out in 18 months' time.
Discussing the report in June, the Office of the e-Envoy's high-level Interoperability Working Group looked at the cost impact of trying to satisfy this five per cent of users. The minutes note only that "good design was suggested as the means to enable comprehensive access."
Copies of the web browser usage report can be downloaded
Courtesy of eGov Monitor
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