otsukare Thoughts after a day of work

Web Compatibility in China

Mozilla has an office in China located in Beijing. Hallvord Steen and myself (Karl Dubost) went to Beijing for having a better understanding of the Web Compatibility story in China. And how the tools we are developing for Mozilla Web Compatibility could help the work in China.

Beijing Office

City landscape

The Mozilla Beijing Office is located at the 8th floor of a building with a beautiful view on the city. I want to specifically thank Hong Tang, Rachel Zhang, Wanting Xiong, YanFang Liu, Yousheng Li and Jack Guo, but also the rest of the Team we had wonderful contacts with. They made this trip fruitful and very enjoyable. We learned a lot in the process. It feels good to be part of this community.

China Market

When compating the Chinese market to the western countries market or neighboring countries such as South-Korea or Japan, there will be striking differences.

Internet Access

The internet access fees are higher compared to the revenues of a big part of the population. Heavy sites become quickly an issue and some users will rely on deactivating images loading. Most browsers will propose a direct option in the UI to do just that instead of hiding through menus deep in the preferences.

Education Level

The education and litteracy levels of the population is changing quickly, but at the same time, there is still a high part with the population with low reading/writing skills. Typing a URL can be challenging. For this reason, browsers will rely on systems of predefined well-known sites list and icons ready to click (touch) for accessing the Web services. In addition to that, latine characters of domain names do not make immediate sense to users. Some services will use domain names with numerals instead of roman characters to make it easier to remember for people.

Different Web Services

The main search engine in China is Baidu. Google is not stable enough and not relevant enough in China to matter for the users. The main social networks are RenRen, Sina Weibo, QQ, WeChat, etc. Twitter and Facebook are for example not accessible from inside China territory. Taobao instead of Ebay/Rakuten/Amazon for ecommerce. Alipay, online payment solution, belongs to Taobao (Alibaba Group). Each of these services exhibits millions of transations. The numbers are impressive and growing.

Very Competitive Browsers Market

There is a very competitive market for capturing the user base. Agressive strategies are created to make people use the browser of one company. There is a vertical integration of the browser with services, much like Google does. All these browsers are WebKit based with some interesting specificities. Web sites lists/directory, Image mode, Icons, integration with services, multiple rendering engines mode.

Web Compatibility Issues

WebKit and IE dominations

Most of the Web sites will care about WebKit and IE only. IE has been used traditionally at wide scale for banks, governments and public services Web sites. New sites are designed with WebKit in mind, because it is what all the local browsers support. Many desktop browsers have a dual mode where an IE rendering engine is included with the WebKit Engine. If a page requires ActiveX or the site is identified as needing compatibility with IE, the browser automatically switches into IE mode inside the chrome of the browser. The users do not have changed browsers.

WebKit CSS main offenders

Some of the main offenders for Web Compatibility issues are the following WebKit CSS properties. They are used very often without their unprefixed counterpart.

  • -webkit-box-sizing
  • -webkit-background-size
  • -webkit-box-flex
  • -webkit-box-shadow
  • -webkit-border-radius
  • -webkit-transform
  • -webkit-gradient

A new player on the Chinese market would have to rely on a couple of different strategies.

  • using a WebKit rendering engine
  • implementing aliases for some of the CSS WebKit properties
  • reinterpreting on the fly some CSS Webkit properties to feed the equivalent to the chosen rendering engines.

Each of them have their own set of cascading issues. The Web standards narrative is harder to sell in a very competitive market to the business owners and even less accessible to the users who just need a Web site which is working.

Contacting Web Developers

Contacting Web Developers and big corporations in China is becoming a lot easier if you have direct business deals with those companies. People might try to fix a Web site along this business deal but only to the extent that it helps them to reach out more users. Most of the browsers being tied to big brand such as QQ Browser (Tencent), UCWeb (strong ties with Alibaba). Web developers will not be on Facebook or Twitter but on the local social networks.

As for other countries it is always better to contact Web developers in China.

Mozilla China and Web Compatibility

Mozilla China has done already an impressive work for Web Compatibility engaging users and community fans. A full section of the Web site is dedicated to Web compatibility, which includes a form for reporting issues (you need to be a registered user). Mozilla China is also testing in released versions of Firefox for Android and Desktop what can be done to improve Web compatibility issues on this very competitive market.

In combination to that, w3Help, a cross-vendor Compatibility Web site, was started a couple of years ago for explaining some of the main issues, similar to what we are trying to do for WebCompat. When the Web site went down because the domain was not renewed, Web developers complained that the Web site was very useful for learning about good practices. W3C China stepped up and bought back the domain name. This gave also the opportunity to develop an amazing extension for Chrome (source code) on how to visualize Web compatiblity issues. The flags are tied to W3Help Web site articles; for example, an article about Date() and toLocaleString() issue in different browsers. This site is a mine of gems for Web Compatibility issues.

Hallvord and I have explained how we were working on a daily basis, introduced the tools we were using, and how using common services could help us to have a better understanding of the issues in China and how using the tools will help them to easily track the issues.

Conclusion to a beginning

Coming to Mozilla China was a wonderful experience. Thanks again to the amazing people at Mozilla Office in China to have been more than helpful in guiding us through the issues of Web compatibility in China.

As a developer or a business person, it is a very good experience to be there and experiment yourself on a daily usage, the issues that arise when using the Web.