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Update (28-11-13): The New Zealand Government Web Standards 2.0 have been replaced by the Web Accessibility Standard and the Web Usability Standard. There is no longer a requirement to test in specific browsers. See the related guidance document, Browser and device testing.

Lately, a number of people have been writing to web.standards@dia.govt.nz asking the same question: What browsers am I supposed to test my websites in given the changes to Yahoo! Graded Browser Support?

The Browser Testing Standard in the NZ Government Web Standards 2.0 requires that [a]ll new or significantly redeveloped websites must be tested against all browser and operating system combinations identified as A grade by Yahoo! Graded Browser Support (GBS).

However, in July 2011, Yahoo! GBS stopped identifying browser support grades altogether. As such, there are no longer any up-to-date browser/OS combinations identified as A grade. Accordingly, there is effectively no way to reasonably apply the Browser Testing Standard, and therefore no way to meaningfully pass or fail it.

Note that the Web Standards are currently under review, part of which involves addressing outdated requirements such as this one.

From Browser Support to Browser Testing

The Yahoo! GBS matrix no longer presents a suite of browsers that must be provided an “A-grade” experience. Instead, it proposes a baseline of browsers to include in a test suite that maximizes test coverage and minimizes the testing surface. What experience each browser is to be provided, though, is up to the website’s project team.

Progressive Enhancement

A fundamental tenet of the web is that content can be viewed and used regardless of device or user agent. This principle underlies the best practice approach known as progressive enhancement. The basic idea with progressive enhancement is that a web page’s basic or core content and functionality are provided to all browsers, and then enhancements are added to the page if the browser supports them.

It is understood that the user experience for any given web content will not be the same on every device or user agent. As long as all core content and functionality are provided for all browsers, the experience across browsers need not be the same. For instance, a web team may deem it quite reasonable to give Internet Explorer 6 a simple, single-column layout with minimal functionality, while preserving the more enhanced functionality and visual experience for more recent and capable browsers.

Test in Browsers Your Visitors Use

Until the next version of the Standards and associated guidance are released, our suggestion is that web teams test in a suite of browsers that makes sense for them. The particular spectrum of browsers that are tested, and what support means in each case, is a decision to be made by each agency for each of its websites. Ideally, the decision will be an informed one, for instance, based on the site’s analytics and an acknowledgement of the site’s audience as well as the technologies available to and used by its visitors, etc.

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