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"until user agents?" - revisiting baseline capabilities

From: Wendy A Chisholm <wendy@w3.org>
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 2001 16:23:21 -0500
Message-Id: <>
To: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Cc: Anne Pemberton <apembert@crosslink.net>, allan_jm@tsb1.tsbvi.edu, thoeg@get2net.dk, seeman@netvision.net.il, Max@w3.org, Jason White <jasonw@ariel.ucs.unimelb.edu.au>, cpl@starlingweb.com
Message summary:
This message grew more the longer I thought about it.  Reading an article 
about Netscape 6 from WebReview.com [1] inspired me to compile some 
statistics on browser usage [3].  One of the stickiest WCAG 1.0 issues we 
have is the "until user agents" clause.  We don't have a clear answer to 
apply to the WCAG 2.0 working draft yet.  Here's an attempt to gather some 
information that might help.  I have sent this e-mail specifically to 
several people on the GL list since I've included a list of questions about 
usage in people's regions or work environments. Answers to these questions 
might help us form a clearer picture of the technology that people with 
disabilities use and if it is significantly different than the rest of the 

WebReview published an article last week called, "Why Netscape 6 Woes Are 
Your Best Friends" [1] by Makiko Itoh.  In it, he discusses some of the 
bugs in Netscape 6 but also its conformance to W3C standards (DOM Level 1, 
part of DOM Level 2, CSS1). Many previous Netscape proprietary document 
objects are no longer supported, e.g. the layer and ilayer objects.  Refer 
to WebReview's comparison chart (updated 14 January 2001) for more info on 
CSS1 support [2].

He says, "Despite the frustrations of having to change the way we work, the 
strict nature of a browser's adherence to standards makes sense. If there's 
a certain level of core standards support in all major browsers, it makes 
our jobs as Web designers and developers much easier, much less time 
consuming, and more cost effective."

Netscape 6 is much less forgiving of invalid markup which should hopefully 
force designers/developers to validate their code.  That push should help 
accessibility quite a lot.

Perhaps one of our primary activities should be working to help people 
worldwide to upgrade to IE5.5 on Windows, IE5 on the Mac, or Netscape 6 on 
Linux/Unix/Win/Mac.  At least that might help solve some of the baseline 
capabilities problems.  It's a dream but perhaps not so far off.

I talked with someone who recycles old computers to give to people with 
disabilities.  I had assumed that this was his primary business and that 
people with disabilities were spending money out of their own pockets to 
buy assistive technology and computers.  Instead, he says most of the 
people he works with here in Wisconsin (please don't generalize this too 
much), get money for technology from the Department of Vocational 
Rehabilitation.  Since they often spend $1000 or more for assistive 
technology they are also getting brand new computers off the shelf.  He 
receives more offers than he can handle for donations of old computers and 
turns a lot of people away - the computers are too old and worthless (a 386 
with a black and white monitor for example).  He says most of the people he 
works with, if not all, will be using the computer to communicate (e-mail, 
web, messaging, etc.).

I want to know what it is like elsewhere.  What are other people 
experiencing in their part of the world? Anne (school environment for 
children with learning disabilities - U.S.), Jim (school environment for 
children with visual disabilities - U.S.), Claus (Denmark), Lisa (Israel), 
Max (Japan), and Jason (Australia), Chuck (Canada) - as well as everyone 
else -

What is happening to older computers?  Are they being recycled? Upgraded? 
Which operating system(s) do you use at work?  In the schools in your 
region?  Disability user groups in your region?
a. DOS b. Windows 3.1 or earlier  c. Windows 98/2000/Millenium d. Windows NT
e. Macintosh 7.1 or earlier  f. Macintosh 8 or later (Macintosh Be, MacOS)
g. Unix  h. Linux i. other - please specify.

Which browser(s) do you use at work? In the schools in your region? 
Disability user groups in your region?
a. Microsoft IE 3.x or earlier  b. Netscape 3.x or earlier c. MSIE 4.x d. 
MSIE 5.x  e. Netscape 4.x f. Netscape 6.  g. Mozilla  h. Opera 3.x  i. 
Opera 4.x  j. Opera 5.x  i. IBM Home Page Reader j. PWWebSpeak  k. Other - 
please specify.

Are there particularly agencies in your state or country that help people 
with disabilities acquire technology?   How often are they able to 
upgrade?   Are they encouraged to upgrade?   Are they given support to 
answer questions or to help install new software?

How different is the technology in inner cities versus rural areas?
What connection speeds do people typically use?
Can someone provide information about Russia?  Africa? China? South 
America? Other European countries? Other U.S. states?

I collected some data from a variety of sites and published some notes [3].

One interesting quote I stumbled upon is:
What browser are they using? "...it doesn't matter. What DOES matter is 
that there are differing browsers with differing characteristics, and there 
are LOTS of them already out there. Even if the best "selling" browser 
changes, the chances of the majority of users converting to that browser 
within a short period of time are very slim. Even if the percentage of 
users drops lower, 25% of 276+ million is a respectable figure - around 80 

As of October 2000 Internet.com had several accesses by Microsoft IE  1.x 
as well as Netscape 1.x. They also report that about 83% of access requests 
include Javascript support for Javascript 1.2, 1% were for JavaScript less 
than 1.2, and 15% did not support Javascript or had it turned off (is my 
interpretation of "Javascript false" although it might mean not supported 
rather than turned off).

Most stats show a clear lead of Microsoft over Netscape over 
other.  however, the breakdowns vary.  An even larger variance is shown 
just in support for IE5. Note that it is not always clear if they are 
reporting IE5.x, IE5.0, or other.  So i have included how they report it as 
well as the date that they reported it.
31.7% WebSnapShot.com (IE5.0 22 January 2001)
81% WebSnapShot.com (IE5 20 January 2001 as reported by Browser News)
32% How Big is the Internet (MSIE5 24 May 2000)
66% The Counter (MSIE5.x - 20 October 2000)
73% The Counter (MSIE5 20 January 2001  as reported by Browser News)
67% My WebSite (MSIE5 20 January 2001 as reported by Browser News)

I think this info might be useful as we try to tackle the baseline 
capabilities/until user agents discussions.  I will continue to add to this 
summary. Please send info and links that you would like included in this 
summary.  I'll be interested to read people's responses to my questions above.


[1] http://www.webreview.com/2001/01_19/webauthors/index03.shtml
[2] http://www.webreview.com/style/css1/charts/mastergrid.shtml
[3] http://www.w3.org/WAI/GL/2001/01/22-stats.html
wendy a chisholm
world wide web consortium
web accessibility initiative
madison, wi usa
tel: +1 608 663 6346
Received on Monday, 22 January 2001 16:18:46 UTC

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