February 14, 2003 7:44 AM PST

Opera says 'bork' to MSN standards

Opera Software has released a new version of its Opera 7 Web browser with just one tweak--it turns Microsoft's MSN Web site into gibberish that was inspired by the Swedish Chef from "The Muppet Show."

The "Bork Edition" of Opera 7 isn't designed so much to win over new visitors as to make a point about how browsers and Web sites should work together. It is Opera's response to what the company alleges are dishonest tactics by Microsoft to make Opera look like it is displaying pages improperly when people view MSN.

The Swedish Chef's dialogue was famously incoherent, and included the phrase "Bork, bork, bork!"

"This is a joke. However, we are trying to make an important point," Mary Lambert, desktop product line manager at Opera, said in a statement. "The success of the Web depends on software and Web site developers behaving well and rising above corporate rivalry."

Microsoft was not immediately available for comment on the move.

Earlier this month, Opera said Microsoft was sending its browser a faulty style sheet, which determines the presentation of graphics and text in a browser window. When people using Opera 7 browser software visit MSN.com, published by Microsoft, some of the site content is obscured, Opera Chief Technology Officer Hakon Lie wrote in a posting to the company's Web site.

"Opera 7 receives a style sheet which is very different from (that used by) the Microsoft and Netscape browsers," Lie wrote in his explanation. "Opera 7 is explicitly instructed to move content off the side of its container, thus creating the impression that there is something wrong with Opera 7."

Sources have confirmed that not only does the code not work in Opera 7, it also doesn't work in Microsoft's own Internet Explorer 6.

After an initial denial, Microsoft said it did send different style sheets to different browsers, and defended the practice. "We have different style sheets and different code for various browsers," said Bob Visse, director of marketing for MSN. "That's something we do to try optimize the experience for our users."

The browser-breaking charges come more than a year after Microsoft fell under fire for blocking Opera and other non-IE browsers from access to its MSN site.

In the resulting outcry, the tech giant opted to let the other browsers back into MSN. However, it also took the opportunity to disparage the browsers' adherence to industry standards. Microsoft warned that "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" is concerned.

Opera is now accusing its rival of making sure that the MSN experience is degraded for Opera users. Opera said that the page and style sheet served to IE 6 renders properly not only in that browser, but also in Opera 7. In addition, the code served to Opera has serious rendering problems in both.

"We are working hard to make sure the Opera browser works well on all Web pages, even those that do not follow the Web's standards to the letter," said Lie, in a statement. "But it becomes impossible when we are targeted and fed distorted pages that don't work in any browser."

News.com's Paul Festa contributed to this report. ZDNet U.K.'s Matthew Broersma reported from London.

 

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