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On October 25, 2001, Slashdot carried a story describing how MSN, Microsoft's Internet Service Provider subsidiary, was no longer normally accepting HTTP requests from certain browsers, in particular Opera and the newest versions of Netscape Mozilla, AOL Time Warner's browser. I tried using the wonderful UNIX standby wget, and I too received the error index page telling me to upgrade my web browser. According to MS people, "We do identify the string from the browser, and the only issue that we have is that the Opera browser doesn't support the latest XHTML standard," said MSN marketing director Bob Visse. "So we do suggest to those users that they go download a browser that does support the latest standards." (Yahoo News)

This happened the same day that Windows XP was released, prompting some of the usual /. crowd to claim MS was embracing, extending and extinguishing as always. MS revamped the MSN site the same day, and decided to require browsers to theoretically adhere to tighter W3C standards.

As a long-time amateur web designer myself, I can understand MSN's desire to get people to upgrade their browser. Netscape Navigator 4.X's horrible cascading style sheets implementation was the bane of my work for a long time. However, they should have thoughtfully pointed out some other, non-MS browsers which could work, and explained themselves more thoroughly on the site.

Microsoft eventually backed off from this stringent blocking of other browsers. I commented on slashdot that if you want to spoof things to get the damned page, do the following:

wget -U "Mozilla (compatible; MSIE 6.0b;
Windows NT 5.0; Bill Gates eats worms)" http://www.msn.com

I recalled one time where a high school web site (Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri, specifically) would not return anything in IE on Mac OS X or wget, but did work on IE on Windows 2000. I was a bit angry about this, as interoperability is rather key to the Internet. I bet, were someone so inclined, a lawsuit against the high school for blocking browsers needed for the blind and disabled would probably succeed.


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