Windows 8 and websites that just don’t “click”

Picture this – your IT Department announces it’s time for a new round of machine refreshes and everyone is excited to get a new, shiny laptop. You get your new machine in hand and dive in to Windows 8; after all, a recent CNNMoney article noted “Microsoft claimed that its users would enjoy the experience of learning a new operating system” (full article here).

Everything is copasetic until you decide to install a second (or third) browser; sure IE10 is a great step forward, and my preferred browser for SP2013, though it can have some struggles in SP2010 (reference here). A large portion of the Windows user base though still prefers Firefox or Chrome.

And it’s there – at the convergence of those browsers, Windows 8′s penchant for encouraging touch-based interaction and website designers trying to optimize for touch – that an issue can arise. When using one of those “other” browsers, you find some of your favorite sites seem crippled; basic events, normally related to clicking on items or opening a menu just don’t happen. There’s no JS error in the browser, no indication as to what happened; the site just doesn’t seem to be registering your mouse clicks.

In our case, our new laptops do not have touch screens; but they do have one of the newer touchpads, the ones that support multi-touch & gestures. As I started digging – and getting frustrated that some of my most commonly used sites like my bank (USAA), Google Maps, the Amazon AWS console & others weren’t working – I was able to figure out that the problem was those sites were ignoring mouse-clicks in search of “touch” events on key elements within the site.

No worries though; once I had a diagnosis in hand, it was just a matter of finding & testing the appropriate fix. I knew I had to focus at the browser layer, because the issues were not seen when using IE10.

I started with Firefox – here are the steps I followed to get all those sites working again:

  1. Type “about:config” into the address bar
  2. Accept the warning (if you dare!)
  3. Search for “touch”
  4. If “dom.w3c_touch_events.expose” says ‘true’ under its value, double-click to change it to ‘false’
  5. If “dom.w3c_touch_events.enabled” says anything but ‘0’, double-click to pop an input box and set it to ‘0’
  6. Restart Firefox and enjoy you’re once-again functional sites

Then I went over to Chrome and applied a similar set of changes:

  1. Type “chrome://flags/” into the address bar
  2. Ctrl+F and search for “touch”
  3. Find “Enable touch events” and set it to ‘disabled’
  4. Find “Touch Optimized UI” and set it to ‘disabled’
  5. Restart Chrome and enjoy you’re once-again functional sites

That’s it! Sure, I’ve essentially disabled touch support in both browsers; but I don’t have a touch-screen anyway!? And that seemed to be the root of the issue; the browsers thought I did, by virtue of the super-fancy touchpad the laptop has. Not knowing whether the issue was Windows mis-reporting touch support (which, technically, I guess I do have but not in the way app developers would expect), the browsers mis-applying touch vs mouse events, or the web designers of the afflicted sites misusing touch handlers, I just wanted my sites to work again – and that did it.


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