“AND FLASH GORDON WAS THERE IN SILVER UNDERWEAR”

Really, I again assert I don’t know why I roped myself into writing these things, as they are Sisyphean and get me nowhere, but here is a further dissection of Metrolinx, the Failed Redesign of the Year.

Who did it?

Probably some variation of OEB Enterprise. Michelle Mackenzie registered the Metrolinx.CA domain and Matt Mackenzie (I’ll guess they’re related) is listed as the administrative contact. (GO Transit registered Metrolinx.com.) OEB Enterprise is merely a holding page for three other companies. (The page was apparently output from Microsoft Word, a bad sign. A mere single table for layout, though.)

I asked Matt Mackenzie “What role, if any, did OEB Enterprise, Enterprise Canada, or affiliated companies have in the choice of Metrolinx as the new name for the GTTA and, especially, in the design, coding, and development of Metrolinx.com?” The answer (top-posted, inevitably) was “For client confidentiality reasons, we would ask that you refer any questions directly to Rita Scagnetti at Metrolinx.” Matt was apparently unaware he had just confirmed Metrolinx is or was a client.

I haven’t gone exploring the Mackenzies’ other related company sites, as the only one of interest is Metrolinx and we have already exhausted our surprise at learning the cobbler’s children go unshod.

Is it even possible to create an accessible site with Sharepoint?

Apparently not. Microsoft Sharepoint, which Metrolinx uses, is some kind of portal software. (Time for a snowclone: 1998 called. It wants its Web strategy back.)

Microsoft has the temerity to claim that Sharepoint lets you “[s]atisfy compliance and legal requirements[:] The Microsoft ECM solution also includes integrated records management capabilities that give organizations the capability to store and protect business records in their final state.” Great: You won’t get sued for failing to store the right kind of records. How many other ways can you get sued?

Sharepoint uses state-of-the art methods to create Web pages, except that this form of art peaked in 1998. It is impossible in all practical terms to create a page that does not use tables for layout. Cameron Moll spent months adapting Sharepoint to Web standards and admitted the task is “insurmountable at times.” A Microsoft rep popped up on Accessify Forum and admitted tables for layout were unavoidable. With great effort, another person on that forum was able to comply with most of the WCAG Priority 1 guidelines, which, if you’re following along, still means failure.

The listed accessibility improvements are a disgrace. They reveal, in fact prove, how inaccessible the product is out of the box. (And the fixes aren’t even enough!) You need a third-party accessibility kit (read “hack”). But even then it still won’t work and it’s still the wrong idea – bolting on accessibility after the “real” site is done.

There are plenty of reasons to hate Microsoft – many of them unfair, since it is a behemoth made up of many parts. (Through a contractor, one of those parts paid me to write a report on screenfonts. And I have fully-licensed copies of Microsoft Office on my computers here.) But a reason that remains fair is the one articulated by Steve: Microsoft’s problem is bad taste, and not in a small way but a very big way. The entire Microsoft ethos is to create user-hostile, ass-backward software – like Web tools that default to layout tables and E-mail programs that default to top-posted HTML – and charge a fortune for them. (Or sometimes just give away something equally awful, like IE6.)

Because Microsoft users are locked in a Stockholm syndrome – perhaps, pace Stephen Fry, it’s a sick-building syndrome – of never having used anything else, they think price, or complete lack of it, must connote value. Obviously the way Microsoft programs do things is the right way, or why else would they cost so much (or nothing)? I trust the inherent contradictions in this approach are apparent.

These people aren’t using computers or the Web; they’re using Windows and something that works solely in IE6. And they don’t have the slightest clue that anything, let alone everything, is wrong. Microsoft products create Web sites that are the Wrong People’s Internets. The solution really is to stop using Windows and Microsoft products, or, if you can’t go cold turkey, at least switch to Firefox or Opera and knock off the damned top-posting.

Now, what does this have to do with Metrolinx? Like every other tendril of the transportation sector in Toronto (save for Giambrone’s MacBook), all that I’ve written applies to them and explains everything that went wrong. The problem extends beyond the obvious and basic incompetence. It goes well beyond the idea that Metrolinx was too ill-informed to pick the right software or the corollary, that they were duped.

If you find all this a bit too much because the site works for you just fine, then you have actually just rephrased the principles of Web standards and accessibility. It isn’t about you; it’s about making a site work for other people.

If I’m wrong, it’ll be simple to prove: Give me URLs of three sites whose homepages use valid and semantic code and no layout tables that were created entirely in Sharepoint. I expect to be waiting a while.

How many Microsoft-only items are in use?

Looking at the HTML and CSS of the Metrolinx homepage, we find that Microsoft is again arrogant enough to assume it can explicitly redefine the Web through the use of the following elements, attributes, and selectors:

  • ALLOWDELETE, ALLOWEXPORT, ALLOWREMOVE
  • BACKGROUND
  • COLOR
  • HASPERS
  • HEIGHT
  • ID
  • MSOPNLID
  • ONLYFORMEPART
  • SCROLL
  • WEBPARTID
  • WIDTH
  • XMLNS:O
  • behavior
  • text-overflow
  • verticalalign

There are ways in which all but the last three could be made legal, but in no event would any device other than IE6 understand most of them.

What about copyright infringement?

Spacer™ comment contributors noticed many images, ostensibly of the GTA, that were apparently lifted from other Web sites, altered, and republished, all without permission and well outside the realm of fair dealing or other exemptions. Assume $500 per infringing copy (each impression of a page is one of those) and the bills start mounting quickly. Luckily for Metrolinx, the original copyright holders are never going to find out, let alone file a lawsuit.

Could this get worse?

Yeah. Metrolinx is now the DTI of Canada, wasting money on an expensive, noncompliant, and inaccessible Web site that will now have to be thrown out and replaced at even greater cost.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.12.11 15:47. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2007/12/11/metrolinx3/

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