[access-uk] Re: De facto standard: a helpful term in web accessibility? [was: Firefox, Internet Explorer, and MSAA]

Benjamin,

        I'm surprised you find defacto standard to be such a confusing
phrase. More so that you use politics as an analogy, when it's widely
recognised to be a technical term, not a political one. Each to their own
however.

Regards,
Léonie.
-----Original Message-----
From: access-uk@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:access-uk@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of
Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis
Sent: 18 August 2007 22:20
To: access-uk@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [access-uk] De facto standard: a helpful term in web accessibility?
[was: Firefox, Internet Explorer, and MSAA]

Léonie Watson wrote:

> I suspect you may be confusing a standard, with a defacto standard.
> The two are not the same.

I'm starting a new thread, as the previous thread was really supposed to
spark discussion of actual bugs not semantics.

Thank you for the links, but I'm actually familiar to the the application of
the term "de facto standard" to what Internet Explorer does. I just think
it's a thoroughly confusing phrase in this context. 
What does the term "de facto standard" imply in this case that a more
straightforward phrase like "behaviour of the most popular browser" 
would not, and are those additional connotations accurate or not? Does the
term help us to think clearly? The fact that people often end up referring
interlocutors to resources that explain the difference between de facto
standards and other standards does not produce confidence in the phrase's
clarity. On balance, I think it's counterproductive to backport ever more
figurative and loose uses of the word "standard" into a technical sphere
like software engineering.

My quarrel with the term is not so much that I think standards should be
blessed by standards organizations, but that:

1. I think the term glosses over the 15% of people who don't use Explorer. I
don't really think 85% is enough to make something de facto. 
If a warlord controls only 85% of a country, are they its de facto
government or it disputed territory? You could argue it one way or
another: it's not a "clear case".

2. I think the term implies that Explorer's behaviour is trivial to mimick,
but it isn't. When you are talking about multiple applications implementing
the same standard, whether law, or certification, or popularity makes it
desirable to implement the standard isn't crucial, I think you need to be
talking about a specification or verbalizable convention against which you
can objectively measure implementations, not some particular piece of
software, especially not a complex black box like Internet Explorer.

3. I think the term may suggest that Internet Explorer's behaviour is
optimal for or even usable by other implementations and that copying it
would ensure accessibility and interoperability (that was very much how
Alistair was using it). In many situations, popularity can be a mark of
quality. Because of distortions in the browser market (most obviously,
Internet Explorer being bundled with the operating system installed on most
personal computers), the most commonly used solutions are not necessarily
the best. Because Internet Explorer fails to expose all features it does
support to MSAA, because Firefox has feature support that Internet Explorer
does not, and because Firefox supports more platforms than Internet
Explorer, simply copying Internet Explorer's MSAA exposure, rather than
enhancing and extending it, would reduce Firefox's accessibility and
interoperability. Likewise, because there is much more to how screen readers
interact with Explorer than its use of MSAA, exactly copying it would not
even provide automatic interoperability with screen readers that can be used
with Explorer.

--
Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis
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