Current technical requirements for web interfaces

Periodically, it's important to review and update the client-side technical requirements of your web site. Reviewing client-side technology requirements is necessary to ensure that you are taking advantage of current options, while minimizing the amount of effort needed to support dated technologies. Decisions regarding which technologies to support need to be made by considering both industry trends and the unique needs of your company and customers. Here are some statistics on the use of various technologies:

Browsers

Microsoft dominates the browser world, with over 93% of web users using a version of Internet Explorer. Other browsers have dropped to less than 2% market share or less. Browser statistics vary somewhat from source to source, so industry stats must be weighed against your site's stats.

Supporting Internet Explorer 5 and above is mandatory for e-businesses, because this includes over 90% of Web surfers' browsers. The question for most companies, then, is what other browsers to support, and how much testing to do with other browsers. There are several ways to handle this issue.

One approach is to support current web standards instead of trying to develop for older browsers. The Web Standards Project is a developer coalition that advocates this approach. Its web site provides information and tools for developers wanting to use extensible hypertext markup language (XHTML), cascading style sheets (CSS), ECMAScript, and other web standards.

The unfortunate reality is that older browsers do not adequately support these standards. Most e-businesses are not developing for these current web standards as a result. Deciding which browsers to actively support comes down to a business call, weighing the use of less common browsers at your site against the costs of supporting them.

JavaScript

ECMA Script is the accepted standard for web page scripting. ECMA Script developed out of Javascript, and is supported by most current browsers. It's commonly used for form validation, redirects and navigation.

The benefits of using browser scripting need to be considered against its potential liabilities. About 10% of web surfers have JavaScript disabled. For this reason, sites using JavaScript need to perform additional site testing with JavaScript turned off.

Disabling JavaScript can cause problems with navigation, because several navigational effects, such as image rollovers, rely on JavaScript. These types of problems can be minimized by using JavaScript primarily for functions such as client-side form validation rather than navigational effects.

Other client-side concerns

Several other features should be standardized for your site. 94% of web surfers browse from machines with screen resolutions of 800 pixels wide or above. This means that most users will be able to easily use pages that are around 760 pixels wide, or that stretch. Pages around this pixel width should print well, too. Large page sizes will require scrolling by more than half of all users. If your site gets significant traffic from WebTV users, though, your pages may need to be narrower. WebTV only supports about 544 pixels width.

Other user interface features are less frequently used by web sites.

* About 25% use frames
* 3% use client-side Java
* 5% use IFrames
* 8% use Flash

Implementing any of these technologies is likely to increase the amount of testing and support necessary for your site. For example, framed pages can be difficult to bookmark, and can cause usability problems, especially for users with disabilities.

Of these technologies, client-side Java is one of the more controversial. Client-side Java has been a victim of the battles between Microsoft and Sun. Some recent versions of Windows and Internet Explorer do not ship with support for it. About 90% of web surfers have browsers that support Java, while the remaining 10% have browsers that either do not support Java or have it disabled. Because of this, using client-side Java will require additional testing and user support.

Flash, on the other hand, is supported by 98% of Web users, according to MediaMetrix. It has thrived as an interactive Web technology because it hasn't been caught in corporate battles, and because it has very user-friendly development tools. While it has been used most frequently for Web advertising and glossy interface features, it is capable of much more.

Planning for the future

Developing for the Web requires balancing the benefits of using Web standards vs. the need to make your site usable for most people accessing your site. Most sites will want to move towards using XHTML and cascading style sheets for user interface development, with minimal use of tables for layout purposes. This can give you most of the benefits of current standards, while minimizing the potential incompatibilities. 760 pixels is a page width that takes advantage of the screen space available to most users without requiring horizontal scrolling. Other technologies, such as client-side Java and Flash, need to be used carefully because they will require additional testing and user support.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Browser Statistics

The Web Standards Project is a grassroots coalition fighting for standards that ensure simple, affordable access to web technologies for all.

ECMAScript Language Specification

Technology Penetration Report

Reference Browser Chart

Flash Penetration

Making Content Printable

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