26 June 2009

The World Wins South Korea for Firefox

I've written before about the curious case of South Korea, where the use of Internet Explorer and ActiveX is almost mandatory. I rather despaired of anything changing this situation, since there didn't seem to be any way to get around it from outside. And yet, remarkably, change is coming:

Korea's multifaceted e-government services will be made available for those logging on from FireFox or Safari, web browsers that are gaining more popularity worldwide as an alternative to Internet Explorer.

According to the government Sunday, users of these "non-traditional" browsers will be able to file for year-end tax returns, sign up for a new passport or look for job openings and do much more at various service Web sites operated by the state.

The Ministry of Public Administration and Security, which is in charge of directing e-government initiatives, said that it will invest 11.5 billion won this year for technical projects to increase the browser compatibility of 49 e-government service Web sites.

Starting 2011, all of the 150 e-government Web sites are expected to be accessible from any browser.

That's remarkable, as is the reason for the change:

The development is expected to be useful for overseas Koreans or foreigners logging on to Web sites such as www.hikorea.go.kr from aboard through alternate browsers. Operated by the Ministry of Justice, the Web site is a comprehensive online repository of information for oversea Koreans, immigrants and foreign nationals.

Some civic groups have consistently raised the need to consider expanding e-government services to users of non-traditional browsers.

While the percentage of Koreans users of alternative browsers is still minimal, more netizens worldwide are increasingly surfing the net on browsers other than the Internet Explorer.

A ministry report showed that 21.7 percent of Web users worldwide are browsing on FireFox, and 8 percent on Safari, a browser developed by Apple. IE users make up 67.4 percent of the total Web population.

"We believe that enabling minor browsers to host our e-government services will help overseas Koreans to access the assistance they need and increase Korea's status as a leader in e-government initiatives," a ministry official said.

This shows that what's happening outside a country can still have considerable influence on the internal market - provided there is a big enough expatriate community that still "calls home". Given the increasingly globalised nature of computing, that offers hope for other parts of the world that may be lagging in their uptake of open source.

And if you're wondering why it matters anyway that the South Koreans should be able to use Firefox and other "non-standard" browsers - don't you just love that description? - it's because the country's users have some of the fastest broadband connections in the world; that means that new applications based on such connectivity may well emerge there first, so it's important that open source be available and viable for all kinds of uses. (Via Asa Dotzler.)

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Adam Pope said...

But isn't IE8 going to be web standards compliant (well, relatively) anyhow? So this will merely be a knock-on effect of making their sites web standards compliant.

Sure, they can market themselves as doing this for the users, but web standards are the driver here. Methinks ;o)

Glyn Moody said...

Given that the S Korean has pretty much *mandated* the use of ActiveX, I don't think they care too much about Web standards as such; as I wrote, the driver here seems to be pressure from the Web-savvy Korean community outside Korea.

Unknown said...

As a Linux user who wouldn't touch a Microsoft product with your 20 foot pole, it is absolutely galling how non-IE browsers are basically marginalized with terms like "non-standard" and "non-traditional".

How MS inspires that kind of fanatical loyalty, I will never understand.

Glyn Moody said...

In the case of S. Korean, I don't think it's loyalty so much as inertia and institutional lockin: that's why this news is so significant.

JiYong said...

The use of IE and ActiveX is the fault of the paranoid US government.

When 128-bit SSL was released, the US only allowed for internal use.

S-Korea wrote 128-bit SSL in ActiveX, meaning "secure" transactions could only be made through IE.

Nowadays 128-bit SSL is available in the whole world, but the damage had already been done.

Now it's the Korean government, the next big step will hopefully be the Korean banks.

Glyn Moody said...

Many thanks for that information - I hadn't realised that was the reason. As you say, let's hope the banks follow suit now.

Friend Isaac said...

it was stupid of korea to mandate the use of IE. even now i always have trouble logging into korean websites using firefox. i bet all those activex content were used for ads and shit that installs on the computer for authorization. god i hate korean websites so much.