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The Browser Wars are back: Opera smacks MSN

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Opera Software has rebuffed Microsoft's ever-shifting explanations of why the upstart browser found itself blocked from the MSN website.

Microsoft originally blocked Opera access, then enabled it after stories in The Register - widely followed-up elsewhere - highlighted the Redmond-spun incompatibilities.

Microsoft offered a series of excuses for blocking the alt.browser, originally claiming that Opera didn't support XHTML, which turned out to be wrong, before conceding that its programmers explicitly looked for and blocked the identification strings that Opera sends to web sites in a typical HTTP connection sequence.

"Unfortunately their marketers continue to spread inaccuracies, and has yet to fulfill its public promise to open its portal to all Internet users," says Opera Software in a statement.

There's a nice irony to this.

Key web developer Hakon Lie, who developed the Cascading Style Sheet format for Microsoft, in a brief spell working for The Beast, is now a technical lead for Opera Software.

But more seriously, the stakes are deadly high. Opera has been chosen as the preferred browser by the big mobile phone vendors as they seek to turn the humble voice phone into a ubiquitous data-enabled smartphone: Symbian, which is essentially the cellphone industry's we-don't-do-Microsoft joint venture, blesses Opera as its browser of choice. (The lion's share of mobile handset operators - Nokia, Ericsson/Sony, Motorola and Matsushita - are Symbian shareholders, and practically all of the others are licensees).

With personal smartphones predicted to eclipse PCs in volume in the next few years, and with phones being a piece of very personal technology that penetrates markets far deeper than the more versatile but unwieldy PCs (think: Mom), Microsoft faces an end-run around its PC franchise. The bulk of consumer e-commerce transactions will be conducted on such simple personal communications devices that cost the punter next to nothing. And Bill Gates himself knows it, as his own accounts of meetings with Nokia attest.

So what might seem a trivial skirmish really does prefigure a much deeper industry war. On the day that the DoJ apologized for daring to suggest that the first Browser War showed anti-competitive behaviour, the Browser War Version Two strikes back. And this time it's personal: very personal. ®

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