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Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft's 'enemy within'?

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Does the popularity of Mozilla Firefox know no bounds? Publicity doing the rounds to support stories about Microsoft's MSN Search seems to include screenshots of something that looks strangely like Firefox. Ido Kenan of Israeli site NRG Maariv has investigated the strange case of a PR shot of this combination labeled "AP Photo/HO/Microsoft".

This construction is generally used for photo credits where the photo has been issued by Microsoft, and if you look around you'll find a few other examples. HO simply stands for "Hand Out", which usually means the outfit writing the story (here, Associated Press) sourced the photo from Microsoft. One of the stories that has used it to illustrate an MSN Search review can be seen here, and there are plenty more versions of the AP article. NRG Maariv has as link to a bigger version if you can't quite make out it's Firefox.

But was the picture issued by Microsoft? A spokesman for company PR firm Waggener Edstrom says: "None of our approved/distributed screen shots of MSN Search were made using a Mozilla Firefox browser. Moving forward, we will not be commenting on this issue." Which is not entirely a 'no', is it? Presumably, should a reputable news organisation such as AP would not be impressed if people started casting unwarranted aspersions on the integrity of its product. Even we, a thoroughly disreputable news organisation, would not be best pleased.

At this juncture we propose to designate this as one of those silly stories that Microsoft's spin doctors end up getting themselves stupidly tied in knots over, leave them to it and stroll smartly off. But we'll just stir the pot a tad before we go. If you look over here, and click on the one headed "MSN Search Near Me", you'll see that some subversive (in Redmond, for chrissakes) has been searching for "Opera". Urk... ®

* A note for the two rival camps of emailers regarding that last bit. For camp one, please note that as it is a 'search near me' then it is perfectly natural for the Seattle Opera to figure highly, and for the browser not to figure at all. If the browser is anywhere, it is in Oslo, which is more than a cab ride. So put your black helicopters away. For camp two, sneering that it's perfectly natural for most of the world, when searching for opera, to be searching for opera and not the browser... you point is? Did we say they weren't? It was a joke. If you find you have trouble with these, do feel free to phone a friend before writing in.

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