gmail = non accessible crippleware with workarounds and neat features

a few days ago i logged into Gmail using Opera 8 beta2, expecting the full features as usual... after a moment i started wondering 'where the fuck did all the features go??' where indeed. Google even knew that's what I'd be thinking when I followed the link to use a fully supported browser, more info here... - the page heading is "Where have all the features gone?". Now, they could have scored serious points if they'd said "But... why are the features gone??" (capnjacksparrow@gmail? :)).

Gmail/Google have rolled out an HTML version of the service, which is a seriously cut-down interface. You can check, send and label email and that's about it. At least you can use it though, previously you were screwed if your browser didn't support XMLHttpRequest and JavaScript (realistically not that many browsers are excluded). Good thing? Well, sorta.

Some earlier info posted around the traps by Gmail developers cited an HTML version of Gmail as the solution to accessibility problems with the default version. I sincerely hope this isn't it, as it's a mess of tables and font tags (publishing that sort of thing in 2005 is the web equivalent of entering a stock Trabi into the Le Mans 24 hour endurance race). At this stage Google is only saying that it's for times when you can't use your own computer.

So anyway... I'm sitting here with Opera 8 beta 2, which I know handles Gmail with no real hassles (a few rendering bugs, but no show stoppers). Thankfully, unlike Blogger, there is a way to log in anyway: is your friend.

So... My thoughts on Gmail as it stands today?

  • + excellent features for sighted users with supported browsers
  • +/- cut down HTML version is better than nothing as an alternative
  • - rotten accessibility in either version
  • + HTML version does at least work without JavaScript, the way it handles dropdown menus actually complies with a key accessibility requirement (no automatic submission, you click 'go' when you're ready). So, while it wouldn't pass any validation checks, it may be usable in a screen reader.

The key thing to watch now is whether they update either version to be accessible, or if they claim the HTML version is their 'accessible alternative' - despite the fact you can't use most of the neat features.

Overall... It's disappointing that Google/Gmail would build a font/table "HTML" version in 2005. But it's not surprising given that Google's search tool is still a font/table piece of crud. Google could have been a flagship for good web development, but instead they're yet another example of 'great features, crap accessibility'.


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