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Saturday, March 5, 2005

Finally, Accessible Gmail

The promised additional cross-browser version of Gmail is here, and you can access it directly at It doesn’t have any DHTML, which makes it a lot more accessible, and a real alternative even if you have a modern browser like Firefox. Because now, you can turn off JavaScript, open your own windows, reliably use the back-button, or do anything else your browser allows you to. Finally, I can shift-click an email’s subject to have the email open in a new window – this was what I was used to in Hotmail.

According to Kevin Fox, part of the Gmail team at Google, accessibility issues were considered right from the beginning. In his blog in April 2004 he commented:

“Throughout development the Gmail team has followed the Model View Controller (MVC) principle of design. By the MVC principle, the current front-end DHTML presentation layer is abstracted from the back-end data model.

One of the primary reasons for following the MVC principle is to address accessibility issues. It will enable us to offer a basic HTML version of the service that will be much friendlier to browsers without Javascript, or those using JAWS or other screen readers for the visually impaired, not by ’repairing’ the DHTML UI, but by providing a UI with the same functionality, minus those enhancements that require Javascript and DHTML.”

The simpler Gmail should bring another bonus. Those who wanted to write their own add-ons, like screen-scrapers, or CSS skins, should now have it much easier.

Note depending on your browser, you may still have problems. I couldn’t access Gmail with both NetFront Access, as well as the Opera mobile browser, on a Nokia 6600. Also note that while the new HTML is more accessible, it’s by no means standardized yet: Firefox switches to quirks mode, you will find table-layout, or deprecated inline formatting like “bold” or “font”. This would still make it harder on some browsers. However, these are smaller problems compared to the old ones, and the move to a plain-HTML versions shows Google went in the right direction.

In related news, Google is now also connected to Google’s image software Picasa. From the Gmail What’s New page:

“Use Picasa to easily find, edit and preview your photos. Log in to Gmail directly from Picasa and send the photos from your Gmail account. Picasa even automatically resizes your photos so they’re easier to receive and open.”


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