Gedda.info

Rodney Gedda's piece of the Web

Hotmail and Linux: an icy relationship

| 2 Comments

There are a few whispers going around the Internet about Microsoft “breaking” its Hotmail service for Linux users. I can confirm from first-hand experience that this is more of a stupid decision on behalf of both Microsoft and distributors of open source browsers on Linux.

Last week my father called me complaining about how he couldn’t input any text into the body field of Hotmail’s Web e-mail form. WTF? He’s used Linux as his primary desktop for years (topic of another blog post) and never had a problem with Hotmail. Why does he use Hotmail at all you ask? Well, that’s what he’s used to.

Yeah, yeah, I could suggest he migrate to Gmail, Yahoo!, or many other more open e-mail services, but that’s not the issue here. He’s just used Hotmail for a long time and well before he started using Linux so why should he bother to change? To me Hotmail is just as bad as any other proprietary, hosted by a large company, e-mail service. And, yes, just because an e-mail hosting service is run on free software that doesn’t mean it’s not proprietary!

Anyway, back at the ranch, a few intelligentsia at Hotmail and Novell decided it was a good idea to discriminate against a person’s choice of Web browser and claim a Web browser as their own, respectively.

Homail decided to cripple all accounts accessed by a non-approved browser. People using IE, Safari, or even Firefox can use Hotmail, so long as you’re prepared to put up with the annoying nag screen at every login reminding you of how your experience may be affected if you don’t choose one of the above.

What happened was this – he could log in, surf around, click “new” message, but not enter any text into the subject field of the e-mail. Great, how the hell am I supposed to debug a problem this over the phone?

Turns out the problem is a simple one, but nonetheless obscure.

Place the cursor in the URL field of the browser and fire up:

about:config

Then filter for:

general.useragent.vendor

Double click on the entry and change the value from “SUSE” to “Firefox” and all should be well. This also begs the question, why did OpenSUSE take it upon itself to declare it the “vendor” of Firefox? I know Ubuntu does it as well, but really, why do they feel compelled to make such a small an insignificant change to a critical (at least on the desktop) piece of software?

In one fell swoop Hotmail systematically disabled every non-standard Firefox browser from using its online service properly. Perhaps Novell can ask its “partner” Microsoft why it would do such a thing. Will it happen again? What if a large group of Linux-Hotmail users are relying on the service to run their businesses? What’s Hotmail’s excuse? Bad luck, use a “supported” browser. But Firefox IS supported and was working FINE until one day, without notice, it just stopped working.

That’s the essence of competition. People don’t have to use Hotmail and by messing with people’s browser compatibility it is just shooting itself in the foot.

If something like that happens again I’ll definitely be recommending an alternative.

2 Comments

  1. Surely that would be a good topic for an article?

  2. Wow, that is really pathetic, and such a cheap hack by the Hotmail folk for basically no benefit. Thanks for the blog post, now I can be prepared for the inevitable phone calls I’ll be getting too 🙂

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.