Monday, 17 November 2008

Intentional Incompetence

Ever since Microsoft has released its very latest Windows Live incarnation of its Hotmail webmail service I have been unable to use Hotmail from my Ubuntu Linux desktop.
I would go to the Hotmail login page and login as usual, but then the next screen to greet me would be a warning screen telling me that my web browser is not up to date and that I should upgrade it. It even offers links to Mozilla and Microsoft (naturally) in order to acquire the latest and greatest version. Trouble is, I already have the latest version of Firefox 3 and I am using the latest Ubuntu version, Intrepid Ibex(*). There is nothing for me to upgrade to!
Hotmail is kind enough to still let you access you Hotmail inbox. When you do everything seems fine, but just wait until you go and ask to write a new email: you will not be able to access the area of the screen where you are meant to type your new email’s text. Pretty not handy, isn’t it?
From the beginning that problem looked strange given that I was able to access Hotmail with a similar version of Firefox while using Windows XP and given that I was able to access Hotmail using my Xandros Linux Eee PC, which still uses Firefox 2. What was going on here?
Well, the guys at the Ubuntu Forums sorted things out for me (read their advice here). Basically, Hotmail checks on your browser settings when you login, and if you’re using an unfamiliar Vendor name it would block you; in my case, the unfamiliar vendor name was “Ubuntu”, whereas the default Firefox setting is simply “Firefox”. Had Ubuntu not messed with this setting, the way Xandros didn’t, I would have never had this problem.
Indeed, once I switched the Vendor from Ubuntu to Firefox, Hotmail went back to working perfectly. No upgrades were necessary and no software/hardware were required; the same computer I’ve had before could now manage to access Hotmail.

The question is, then, why did this happen in the first place?
Is it that Microsoft is incompetent enough to design Hotmail so that it wouldn’t work on PCs that are perfectly able to run Hotmail but just had a simple setting changed?
Or is it that Microsoft is actively trying to discriminate against Linux and push its users towards its own Windows line of products?
Given Hotmail’s own hinting towards a required upgrade, I tend to think the issue here is not incompetence at all but rather deliberate discrimination. After all, how can moving from Linux to Windows ever be considered an upgrade?

(*) Before you ask, next April’s release of Ubuntu will be called Jaunty Jackalope and not Jocular Jackal.


Anonymous said...

One day, I don't know when exactly, a minister for consumer affairs somewhere in this world is going to get off his or her butt and launch an investigation to find out why one very large international company is allowed to release faulty products.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Deliberately faulty products.
And mediocre products at that.