October 27, 2001

Thinking about MSN.com's recent tomfoolery into only allowing MSIE onto their site, I draw back into the early days of the "browser wars" when Microsoft first started to include the Mozilla-compatible string in their User-Agent string for Internet Explorer.

Marc Hedlund mentioned Microsoft's decision to use Mozilla in MSIE's User-Agent string in his weblog on July 10, 2001:

"In the example above, the string 'Mozilla' is a remnant of a time five years ago when some Web sites would show high-design content only to Netscape browsers -- which used Mozilla as a User-Agent string -- as these browsers supported non-standard HTML other browsers did not. Microsoft adopted the tag to avoid exclusion, and, well, it stuck."

(Marc contributed to the two HTTP RFCs below.)

A BrowserWatch newsletter from March 6, 2001 mentions a report from an Opera Software employee on why they include Mozilla and Internet Explorer in their user agent:

"He explained that this was a real problem for Opera, because they had to deliberately set their user agent to look like Internet Explorer's. Why? Because, this employee maintained, many Web sites were still in the practice of turning users away if they were not using an Internet Explorer browser."

"This floored me. While I knew this practice was going on during the height of the Browser Wars, I really did not suspect it was still going on today. If true, this practice is at once both unnecessary and incredibly short-sided."

This Apple Developer Connection guide to make a JavaScript browser sniffer shows the Opera/IE user agent string:

Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.0; Windows 98) Opera 5.0 [en]

Back in the mid-90s when you could count on a few browser stories each day (with some crossover from Java), News.Com covered the deal where Internet Explorer users were given a free pass into some premium sites like ESPN and the Wall Street Journal (based on a user agent string) and how some people were editing the UA string of their non-IE browser to get free access.

Tim Berners-Lee responded to MSN.com's browser tricks in an interview with Dan Gillmor.

User-Agent background: RFC 1945 "HTTP 1.0", RFC 2616 "HTTP 1.1".
3:19:26 PM  


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