February 27, 2003

Is Microsoft deliberately sabotaging their user experience?
I believe Capitalism works, I don't think Microsoft is evil, and I don't use Opera, but after reading "Opera 'borks' MSN in standards spat" I can't say I'm impressed with the folks at Microsoft and MSN. It sounds like MSN is screwing with Opera users on purpose and it appears to be an attempt to get those users to switch back to IE. What value is there in deliberately "displaying [MSN] pages improperly" for Opera users? Does that help MSN's advertisers? I don't think so. Does it make their content more accessible? I don't think so. Does it make any sense? No.

Consider these points:

  1. MSN can only make less money for Microsoft and advertisers by breaking pages for users.
  2. Opera is pretty darn standards compliant and clearly supports enough standards that the MSN designers could easily send Opera users a page which displays correctly. Don't tell me they've never heard of "graceful degradation." (From the sound of it, nothing would need to "degrade" anyway - MSN just needs to code things correctly.)
  3. Many of MSN's pages don't validate or have bugs, and IE isn't 100% standards compliant either.
  4. Most web users don't give a thought to technical standards, nor should they. Do car drivers care about what "standards" their vehicles are engineered to?
  5. Web users upgrade browsers infrequently and standards evolve. This means not all standards will be supported by all browsers used by MSN's users at any given point in time.

According to Opera:
"In October 2001, Opera users were blocked from the MSN site. The event caused an uproar among Web users and MSN was forced to change their policy. However, MSN continues a policy of singling out its Opera competitor by specifically instructing Opera to hide content from users .... MSN now allows access to users of Opera 7, but is still targeting and sending users of earlier versions a broken page. This treatment is completely unnecessary, as the page would look the same in Opera as in Microsoft's own Internet Explorer if it had been fed the same information."

When Microsoft reopened MSN to Opera users they said, "the experience may be slightly degraded, simply because (those browsers) don't support the standards we support closely, as far as the HTML standard in those browsers" are concerned.

Microsoft's hypocrisy:
They clearly took a swipe at Opera and other browsers as being less standards compliant. Yet earlier that same year, David Massy of Microsoft said that Microsoft's "position is very clear because a standard exists, that does not mean Microsoft will automatically implement it. Microsoft will implement appropriate standards that we believe are useful to our customers." This clearly shows Microsoft's hypocrisy when accusing Opera of not being 100% compliant. You also have to ask what they mean by "useful to our customers." Which customers are they talking about? Or did they mean shareholders? It seems pretty evident that the 'standard' that Microsoft designs for is Internet Explorer - the 'standard' web browser.

Microsoft is getting their just deserts:
Clearly, Microsoft is one of the companies most responsible for making it difficult for designers, coders, and QA people to deliver a simple cross-browser compatible HTML design. Now their MSN design problems (intentional or not) are being used by a small upstart competitor to make the folks at Microsoft look like heavy-handed, arrogant jerks who would rather screw up their user experience than let someone have a pleasant experience with at competing browser.

So where is the user is all this?
Users are left wondering why the web sucks. Wondering why they have to know so much about computers, web browsers, and upgrades; worrying if the next install of IE they try will go okay or if it'll bomb or mess anything up. Many computer users still see their desktop systems as fragile ecosystems that they'd rather not mess with. Because they didn't setup the technology to experience the technology. They hope to USE the technology to experience things: a more efficient business life, entertainment from new sources, critical information that somehow enriches their life. It's not about the damn technology! Technology should be about changing people's life experiences for the better.

I've been a happy IE user for a number of years (I was once a die-hard Netscape user, but they didn't keep up), but since reading about these shenanigans from MS, I've downloaded the latest versions of Opera, Netscape and Mozilla for personal use and have been taking another look at what browser I want to use in my day to day web use. Microsoft made me pause and wonder again why I was using their browser (which I'd been quite happy with). Attitudes matter.

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