February 07, 2003
Market Competition, Microsoft Style

Microsoft's home page tells the computers of people using the Opera browser and only the computers of people using the Opera browser to move the left margin of the page 30 pixels off the left end of the screen.

The natural inference is that Microsoft is doing this in the hope of convincing everyone who uses Opera and visits the Microsoft home page that the Opera browser is broken, and that they should use Internet Explorer instead.

The Register: Opera Software has accused Microsoft of deliberately engineering the MSN home page in order to make it look as if the Opera browser has a serious flaw in it. And the Norwegian company has published the results of an investigation which it says proves this.

Although Opera is convinced it has been deliberately targeted, it seems at least possible that the problem could be put down to some strangely coincidental finger trouble. But if that's the case, Opera has explained how simple it would be to fix it, and one therefore presumes Microsoft will give the matter its immediate attention.

Opera's techies downloaded the page using wget, in three different formats, identifying as Opera 7, MSIE and Netscape 7.01. The files sent to each browser are different, which is not necessarily suspicious, and the one sent to Opera7 has less content and is bigger than the one sent to IE. But that is not necessarily suspicious either.

Where it does get suspicious is when you look at the style sheets MSN sends to the browsers. The culprit, says Opera, is a 30 pixel value set on the margin property in the Opera style sheet. This instructs Opera to move list elements 30 pixels to the left of the parent, which means content moves off the side of its container, which means it looks like Opera is broken.

Opera tried to test whether or not this was deliberate by changing identification to the non-existent browser Oprah. This returns the IE style sheet, which works perfectly well in Opera. In Opera's view MSN is therefore looking specifically for "Opera" in the User-Agent string and sending it a broken style sheet. That, of course, could still be a mistake, as it's perfectly logical to send IE as the default if the browser can't be identified. But as there was no need for MSN to design an Opera-specific style sheet in the first place, one wonders...

Posted by DeLong at February 07, 2003 07:47 AM | Trackback

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Like I'm surprised in the least.

M$ has a long history of sabotaging the applications of competitors to its own advantage. Easy to do when you own the operating system. This is an extension. As MSN grows, they can transfer they existing strategic processes to it.

Any company that can amass $38 billion in cash and short term investments with Pre tax profit margins of 30-60% has to be a monopoly. Economic profits folks.

Worse then being a monopoly is using monoploy power to maintain the position. Its illegal.Its immoral. M$ does it.

Posted by: section321 on February 7, 2003 09:28 AM

There was (naturally) a long discussion about this on Slashdot.org. If you skip past all the anti-MS ranting, you eventually find someone says that the previous release of Opera (6.0), had a bug which offset lists incorrectly by 30 px.

The natural conclusion then is that the MSN guys put together a style sheet that compensates for this error and sending it when the User-Agent was Opera. I'm sure, any day now, you'll see that they fix their site to additionally check the version number of the browser.

On the whole, much ado about nothing.

Posted by: Anurag Gupta on February 7, 2003 10:33 AM

here is a link to the relevent post on slashdot

and the text:

Actually I spoke too soon and am going to take back what I said. I loaded up the page in Opera 6.0 and the margin -30 is supposed to fix a bug in Opera 6.0's rendering of lists. In fact, it's the very same problem I ran into while designing some webpages a few weeks ago that annoyed me to no end. Basically, Opera 6.0 indents list items by about 30 pixels to the right, unlike other browsers. Thus that -30 value is there to correct that problem. Opera 7.0 doesn't exhibit that tabbing effect (thus consistant with the latest IE and Mozilla browsers). Apparently MSN is serving Opera 7.0 the same CSS sheet as Opera 6.0 even though 7.0 works best when it's served the same style sheet as IE. Thus, saying that this problem is browser sabotage is too strong of an accusation.

Posted by: Anurag Gupta on February 7, 2003 10:40 AM

If MS did not correct the web sheets after being told that this "fix" is damaging the display, this would indicate sabotage. It depends how long it will take them to fix this problem.

Posted by: Piotr Berman on February 7, 2003 11:03 AM

Er, Brad, might I suggest closing the italics tag after, say, and only?

Posted by: Canadian Reader on February 7, 2003 02:31 PM

I didn't read the slashdot article, but the Opera folks claim that Opera 6 didn't have any problem rendering the uncustomized MSN homepage. They say

"Isn't this just a problem with the newly released Opera7?

You mean, perhaps MSN had to write special versions of the page for the older Opera 6? No. Opera 6 handles the pages sent to MSIE 6 just fine."

The screenshots displayed at http://my.opera.com/dev/discussion/openweb/20030206/ seem to support their case--of course they could be fabricating everything. I don't have Opera 6 so I can't test it myself. I did test it with Opera 5 and the lists are displayed incorrectly, so I presume Microsoft hasn't changed the stylesheet yet, as I haven't had any previous indication that Opera 5 has a problem with rendering lists.

Posted by: matthew wilbert on February 7, 2003 07:46 PM

I have a question.

Why do I pay MSN $50.00 a month when I do not use MSN? How come I don't pay the sites I use? Why do I need MSN to continue to develop "data " that I do not use? Why should I pay the NYT for "information" when I already pay MSN $50.oo/month for stuff I don't use? If Qwest can bill me for ATT long distance why can't they take my money and pay it to the sites I use?

Posted by: Bruce Ferguson on February 7, 2003 09:20 PM
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