A Closer Look At The Microsoft Browser Message

Looking a bit more closely at this message on Microsoft’s new website, I can’t help wondering whether it’s not just a niggling little inconvenience but a conscious strategy.

Consider this: If one clicks on the link offering more help on supported browsers you get this message:

Note, the message reads: We are aware that some users are experiencing problems with Microsoft Office Online even when using supported browsers. If you are using a supported browser, you can still use many of the site features even though warning messages are displayed. We apologize for any inconvenience.

This Web site works best with Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.01 or later or Netscape Navigator 6.0 or later. If you are not using the latest versions of these browsers, some parts of Microsoft Office Online may not be accessible and some content may not appear. Additionally, without the latest browser version you may not be able to access premium content on Microsoft Office Online even if you have Microsoft Office 2003 installed on your computer.

To download the latest versions of the supported browsers, visit the Microsoft Internet Explorer home page or Netscape.com.

The Microsoft link in the last sentence takes you to http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/default.mspx while the Netscape link takes you to http://www.netscape.com/ . In other words, the Microsoft link takes you straight to IE, the Netscape link takes you straight to, er, Netscape’s home page, which is actually a network, not a browser. Microsoft would argue they can’t be seen to be deep-linking, I guess. But it’s still a bit naff.

OK, forget that. But why include Netscape version 6? After all, hasn’t Netscape, for the past four years, been built on Mozilla code, which is what Firefox (and for that matter K-Meleon, among others) is built with? Why recommend only Netscape, and not Firefox? I know, I know, Microsoft is going to say that it hasn’t had time to test Firefox 1.0 because it’s only been out a couple of months. But if that’s the case, why say ‘Netscape Navigator 6.0 or later’? Have they tested everything ‘later’? (And if we’re going to get fussy, hasn’t it been called ‘Netscape’ or ‘Netscape browser’ since 2000? Wikipedia records it was last called Navigator in November 1998. That’s some time ago. In fact, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as Netscape Navigator 6.0, which might be the point that Microsoft is trying to make here. OK, now I’m getting petty too. I’ll stop.)

Still, some other serious points arise out of all this. Microsoft seem to be saying that a) Microsoft Office online won’t work for you if you don’t use IE 5.01 or Netscape ‘Navigator’, and b) neither will you be able to access use some of the premium features of Microsoft Office 2003. Apart from the obvious downer for Microsoft Office owners who might also be non-IE users, there’s another question: I haven’t been following all the anti-trust stuff closely, but haven’t we been here already? Or is Microsoft’s inclusion of ‘Netscape Navigator 6.0 or later’ just a clever (or not so clever) way of sidestepping the EC anti-trust suits? They know only half a dozen people use that browser, so the chances of folk prefering it to IE are remote, but they can also put their hand on their heart and say they haven’t broken any anti-trust laws because they offered the punters a choice. But is offering a browser that about 1% of users use a choice?

Hey, I’m sure I’m jumping to conclusions here, and missing out vital bits of information that would make all this guesswork way off and an innocent explanation just an email away. But even if one discards the ‘where is Firefox, with its (according to some) 20% market share’, what about Opera? Around for a good while, now, and while not up there with Firefox, it has, according to W3Schools, got nearly double the number of users as Netscape 7. (Firefox, according to the same statistics, has around 20%.) If you’re going to include a second browser for your users, Netscape doesn’t seem to make sense however way you slice it.

Of course, all this could just be a temporary state of affairs and the teething troubles of a new-look website, as implied by the first sentence in the above message. In which case, just forget what I’ve been saying.

  • Petty or not, temporary or not, it just looks very amateur that the world’s most popular software producer cannot configure its own website to accept other browsers esp. at a time when less and less people are users the browsers it recommends. Does your blog have browser issues? No, didn’t think so. If a £5 a month Typepad blog can flirt through browsers problem free, it’s plain lame a company with a turnover of a zillion dollars a minute can’t follow suit.

    And you’re right about Netscape. So last decade.

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All opinions are my own, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters.



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