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Re: Word Viewer plug-in when a MS Word is hyperlinked in a web page


From: Jukka K. Korpela
Date: Aug 28, 2007 1:40AM

On Mon, 27 Aug 2007, Web Coordinator wrote:

> It was just pointed out to me that I should be adding a link to
> download the MS Word Viewer on any page that has a link to a MS Word
> document, just as I currently add the link to download Acrobat Reader
> for any page with a link to a PDF. Is this common practice?

It's not common.

For PDF, such links are relatively common, but they tend to be
counter-productive. I've seen too many statements like "To view PDF
documents, you need Adobe Acrobat Reader 3.0" with a link. They were
wrong in the beginning (I don't need the stuff, there are other PDF
viewers as well) and they have turned more wrong as Adobe changed the
software name, the version became obsolete, and perhaps someone broke the
link too. Surely such statements should be updated, but get real: authors
who write them just don't bother, they don't even think of the issue.

I don't think WCAG recommends such links; the text at
would be the natural place to such things, but it doesn't. It tells you
that if you use PDF or Word format, "provide an alternative version of
the content that is accessible". That might be unrealistic at times, but
the same applies to WCAG and accessibility goals in general.

In practical terms, people who don't have a PDF or Word viewer hardly
benefit from a link. There's much more than just a download address that
you need (including some idea of how to install software, the right to do
so, and some idea of how to learn to use such software), and if you have
most of the rest, you'll find a download address on your own. - A download
link, or prerably a link to a page on the program (incl. a download link),
would make sense for a relatively _rare_ program, such as a specialized
viewer for a specialized data format.

If you're in the US and Section 508 really matters to you, then you need
to include a link, see
and this apparently applies to Word as well as to PDF. The Section 508
rules also say that the software linked to must satisfy accessibility
requirements; don't ask _me_ how to find such viewers.

Literally, the Section 508 rule requires "a link to a plug-in or applet",
but I think we can interpret this so that a link a page _about_ a plug-in
is acceptable. And it makes much more sense, since that page may then
contain alternatives, general information, instructions, etc., and not
just a download link.

> I'm
> worried that there are different versions of Word Reader depending on
> the version of MS Word, there doesn't appear to be a MacIntosh
> version and no persistent link location, etc. I see that there are
> other Viewers for Excel and Power Point, and wonder how accessible
> any of these applications are.

That's one of the reasons why you should link to an information page
rather than the software directly (a download link). That would be much
better in accordance with the spirit of Section 508, and formally, a link
to a page containing (prominently) a link to X can be construed as
providing a link to X. (I hope your lawyer would agree...)

> It seems slightly different from a
> PDF, since Word and Excel documents download and are not usually
> displayed in the browser.

Such a technicality is not relevant here in my opinion, though the wording
about "plug-ins" is somewhat disturbing. Anyway, I'm used to seeing both
PDF and Word (and Excel) documents opening inside the browser window, and
whether they do that depends on the system (especially the browser) and
its settings.

> Alternatively, I could restrict links to html or PDF documents, but
> often faculty want the student to use the MS Word file as a working
> document for an assignment.

Perhaps they don't know that HTML documents can be opened in MS Word.
There are problems with that, but for simple dual publication (as online
pages and as documents editable by users in word processors), reasonably
discriplined HTML with CSS should work fine, as long as users are informed
about the possibilities.

> Many faculty simply find it easier to
> post the MS Word document than convert it to PDF or HTML, so I have
> lots of these.

That's the big issue. There is no simple solution. Reasonably discriplined
Word with styles converts reasonably to HTML with CSS half-automatically,
but even the starting point is usually poor: the Word documents are not

Jukka "Yucca" Korpela, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/