Better Browsers

Disseminating Official Statistics is a content driven task that should be foremost user-centric. However when it comes to data visualisation, some technology choices have to be made. In fact it was recent progress in web technology that made interactive data visualisation on the web possible in the first place.

ONS is known for pushing the boundaries on interactive content in this regard, going so far as to provide some content that has the following attached to it:

Note – requires an SVG-enabled web browser, such as Firefox, Safari or Chrome

Obviously this wasn’t an option for a press release or for tabulated data. On the other hand there are many on the web who would ask what other browser than the aforementioned ones would one dare to use. The reality however in larger organisations with centrally managed PCs is that users are only offered Internet Explorer and as long long as they are stuck on Windows XP will be confined to Versions 6, 7 and 8 of Internet Explorer that will not display these data driven graphs. As has been shown, browser update cycles differ greatly between corporate users and the home.

Many of us may have been able to quietly install Firefox or Opera on their work machine as those browsers don’t require administrative priviledges to install. That however doesn’t mean that this is an allowed or welcome action and there may be other technical restrictions that will prevent you from even doing that. And then there is management or other less technical inclined parts of staff that just don’t want things changed and learn a new icon to click or find their bookmarks in a different location.

Therefore so far the situation was such that either you would forego technical progress and interactive content alltogether (wait until you get WIndows 7 with Internet Explorer 9 deployed in your or your customers’ organisations) or do it only on some parts of your content and attach the above note to it.

However there is a bridging technology available that recently become much more usefull. It is called Google Chrome Frame and is a plug-in for Internet Explorer Versions 6, 7 and 8 that adds the rendering and JavaScript engine of one of the fastest browsers available for interactive content, namely Google’s Chrome Browser. Recent changes are that you no longer need administrative priviledges to install Google Chrome Frame.

After installation nothing happens, which means that all the custom intranet applications of your organisation that rely on the non-standard behaviour of Internet Explorer 7 or 8 (IE) will continue to work as before since the IE behaviour is still fully there. If however you are providing interactive content that greatly benefits or even requires a modern browser you just need to add the following line to the pages in question:

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="chrome=1">

This means a page with the above meta information will be rendered using the Google Chrome engine inside Internet Explorer if Chrome Frame is installed, thus providing SVG and fast JavaScript capabilities. If this sounds compelling, you might watch the following video from this year’s Google developer conference where the thinking behind Google Chrome Frame was elaborated.

Most of you want to try this out before you can convince your web team to add a meta tag to your web pages, so go check out the Chrome Frame: Developer Guide as well as the Chrome Frame FAQ, where you will also find how you can tweak your registry to deliberatly force the Chrome Frame renderer on pages that don’t yet have the above meta tag added (don’t ask your IT department for help with this).

I am well aware that getting this deployed in an organisation is a tough sell but at least you can guide your users who don’t want to install a new browser to check out your interactive content. If you link to the installer like this

users will be redirected to your page of interactive content after the installation. Finally Chrome Frame auto updates itself as well as the Flash plugin that comes with it.

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