Firefox makes an inroad in the U.K.

Britain's Department for Work & Pensions will makes a job search database readable by the open-source browser.

Great Britain's Department for Work & Pensions has pledged to make its Web sites compatible with as many browsers as possible, including the popular open-source browser Firefox.

The move comes as more companies, such as software company Autodesk, seem to be striving for Firefox compatibility, though significant gaps remain.

"We are very much aware of the widening range of browsers used by our customers, such as Firefox and Opera," said Carl Mawson, the head of e-communications at the Department for Work & Pensions, on Wednesday. "We aim to address this, so that our Web sites work in as many browsers, and on as many platforms as possible."

At present, the job search feature with the department's Jobcentre Plus Web site does not work in the Firefox browser, because the lists of job groups, types and titles are not populated when the search page is opened.

Mawson said that the department aims to fix this feature in the second half of this year.

"The Jobcentre Plus Web site itself does work using non-IE browsers, such as Firefox," he said. "However, the job vacancy search element does not. It is, however, being redesigned to be compatible with non-IE browsers, and we aim to deliver this towards the end of the year. This is as part of our ongoing commitment to developing widely accessible Web content, and also in response to customer comments."

The department is not the only organization that is keen to add Firefox support. San Rafeal, Calif.-based Autodesk said Thursday that it is working on Firefox support for MapGuide, a product that allows companies to distribute GIS (geographic information system)applications on the Web. "We consider Firefox support to be essential and are working on it for the next version of MapGuide," said an Autodesk representative.

It is uncertain whether Autodesk plans to add Firefox support to other products. For example, its DWF Viewer product, which allows people to view and print DWF (Design Web Format) files, is only compatible with IE. Autodesk employee Scott Sheppard said in July on the Autodesk forum that there were no plans to add Firefox support for the product.

"The data we collect suggests that Internet Explorer is still widely prevalent," Sheppard said in his posting. "Although it is possible for Autodesk to support other browsers, it does involve a fair amount of work. For example, Autodesk and Apple (Computer) are undertaking that work for the Macintosh. There are a fair number of Macintosh users who wish to view DWF files. The Firefox-Mozilla customer base has not yet reached a similar critical mass."

There are a number of other organizations that have recently updated their Web sites to make sure it works with Firefox. Since May, the Web site of Powerhouse, an electrical retailer based in Oxfordshire, no longer excludes Firefox users, and since June the Web site of English Heritage, the Government's statutory adviser on the historic environment, no longer forces Firefox users to use a nongraphical version of the site, according to SciVisum, a Web site testing company.

But some companies appear to still be reluctant to update their Web sites to make sure they work on Firefox. The Web site of cinema chain Odeon does not allow Firefox users to open the main part of the Web site, preventing those people from booking cinema tickets.

"The Odeon Web site can be viewed by Firefox users by clicking on the 'text version' option on the home page," said an Odean representative. "This includes all necessary information, including film times and booking."

The Odeon representative was unable to comment on whether the company has any plans to make the site compatible with Firefox.

Firefox's market share has significantly increased over the last year, with Web analytics company OneStat.com saying the open-source browser has increased from 2.1 percent in May 2004 to 8.7 percent in April 2005.

Firefox appears to have grabbed even more market share in Europe, with 30 percent, 24 percent and 22 percent of Web surfers using the open-source browser in Finland, Germany and Hungary, respectively. Most of this increase in market share has been at the expense of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, although one report earlier this month found that IE had clawed back some market share from Firefox.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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