opening up a new window (or not)

  mco 22:17 01 Sep 2005

I have a site,quite important locally, but I'm very conscious that I've had no training and am basically just 'making it up as I go along' - and learning loads from here. In an attempt to give it a more professional look, my question is this: is there an etiquette for when you should open up a link in a new window - or not? I've made all my links - to different sites, to my own subdomains or to pdf/audio/video files open up in new windows, but I notice other sites often don't. You just go there - then hit the back button to return. What's the rule?

  Eric10 23:07 01 Sep 2005

I don't know if there is an etiquette or not but I prefer to open external sites in a new window so that visitors don't close my site by mistake when they close the external site.

  PurplePenny 19:32 02 Sep 2005

There is no hard and fast rule on this but the general consensus seems to be to open external links in a new window. There is also a case for opening internal links in a new window if the user will need to refer to something on the new page whilst still consulting the originating page (for instance on catalogue pages where you might want to view a large picture of a product but still be able to refer to the description, or you might need to keep a size chart open in the background).

If you do open a new window accessibility rules state that you must alert users to the fact that it will open (and remember that now *all* sites must, by law, conform to at least the basic accessibility rules). The new window alert is to help people using assistive technology and those with cognitive disorders, who might otherwise be confused. Many sites use "[opens in new window]" in a small font after the link. You can also add 'title="Opens blah blah site in a new window"' to the link anchor tag. Some accessibility experts state that the latter is not sufficient on its own. Others state that the former is only OK if the "opens in new window" alert is part of the link (because some assistive technologies list links separately so the alert doesn't sit next to the link unless it is part of it).

I frequent a couple of accessibility forums where the experts insist that new windows should *never* be opened. I find that draconian and unrealistic. I also think that accessibility is for *everyone* and NOT opening external sites in new windows is detrimental to those who are (like me) scatter-brained or who may have memory problems. We have come to expect external sites to open in new windows and when they don't it is very, very frustrating to find that you've just closed the external site and taken the original site with it. I work in a university library and we use the web ever day. I am always hearing both staff and students (remember these are people who are used to using the web) complaining because they have inadvertantly closed the originating site when they thought that they were only closing a "quick visit" site.

If you want to validate as strict in either HTML or XHTML you can't use targets in links so you can't open a new window anyway (without JavaScript).


  mco 20:17 02 Sep 2005

Purple penny: I agree very much with your:
" I am always hearing both staff and students (remember these are people who are used to using the web) complaining because they have inadvertantly closed the originating site when they thought that they were only closing a "quick visit" site. "
...which is one of the reasons I tend to 'open new windows' but I've seen elsewhere on the web that this is sometimes considered really bad practice. Any other thoughts anyone?

  Taran 21:51 02 Sep 2005

The trouble with this is that opinion is largely relative and the current accessibility legislation is (in my opinion) unnecessarily difficult to adhere to for a great many mainstream web sites and web applications, not to mention the folks trying to write said sites...

Along with many other web developers I am struggling with some accessibility issues, which can sometimes totally break a site for general mainstream use. The fixes/reworking required can, in some cases, be totally cost prohibitive to the client and entirely unnecessary.

While I have all the time in the world for web standards and for the goals of accessibility compliance, until we get web browsers that can all cope with standards compliant code what chance to we have of writing sites that effectively degrade properly from the various visual browsers to the alternative viewing methods like screen readers and text browsers ?

I still use new browser windows (slap my hand if you like) but since I've always felt that they should be kept to a minimum anyway I tend not to go overboard.

If all you want to do is display help content in text form you can use some wonderful DHTML, JavaScript or CSS driven tooltip pop-ups. Some of these can even be validated, up to a point of course...

All of my own sites have, over the last several years, only ever encountered text based browsers when I've tested my sites in them. My server statistics show that no text browsers have ever accessed my sites in general daily viewing figures.

The catch 22 here is that legislation is there for a reason but complying to it can (and does) raise a lot of issues.

Who'd be a web developer ?

I can't really add anything more to Penny's comments for real world use. Basically there is a time and place for new browser windows, despite the potential to fly in the face of legislation, or at least recommendations on how best to comply to it.

  Taran 21:55 02 Sep 2005

you won't necessarily be breaking a law outright by including new browser windows - and I apologise if the above seems to read like you would.

I am merely including new browser windows along with the raft of other issues that can and will affect how you create a site that complies to accessibility guidelines.

Little and not too often is the best policy methinks...


  Forum Editor 23:20 02 Sep 2005

and I still open external links in new windows on sites I develop. Penny's rationale for new windows is hard to beat, so I won't try.

  PurplePenny 23:28 02 Sep 2005

.... by including new browser windows

Exactly! The law (the Disability Discrimination Act)says (I'm paraphrasing) that sites should make every attempt to comply with accessibilty standards and the relavant standard on new windows doesn't actually say not to do it. In fact it says (and I'm paraphrasing again) only that until browsers allow users to choose whether to open new windows you should avoid doing it but if you do you should warn users.

Maybe we should be putting pressure on the browser dev teams to put in a facility to allow users to stipulate that new windows never open. (I hear the IE7 dev team scream "Oh no ... another straw!")

  Taran 23:39 02 Sep 2005

I'd settle for all mainstream browsers to be able to render standards compliant code in a similar fashion, rather than the hodge podge mismatch of will it display properly (or even at all) we have at present.

Off topic a bit I know, but there we are...

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