New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

Summary: Have you heard? There’s a new browser war, with a suddenly re-energized Microsoft out to maintain its dominant share against upstarts like Google Chrome. If we’re all going to do the Time Warp and zip back to 1996, it’s only fitting that we toss some fear, uncertainly, and doubt (FUD) into the fight. Which is exactly what Microsoft appears to have done.

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Have you heard? There’s a new browser war, with a suddenly re-energized Microsoft out to maintain its dominant share and impede the progress of upstarts like Google Chrome. Every major browser maker has kicked its development cycle into overdrive to one-up the competition.

So, if we’re all going to do the Time Warp and go back to 1996, it’s only fitting that we toss some fear, uncertainly, and doubt (FUD) into the fight.

That appears to be Microsoft’s strategy with its new cloud-based Office 365 service, which I am currently beta-testing. Like many current Microsoft products, this service works with a broad range of browsers and operating systems. And indeed, I have been merrily testing Office 365 in all sorts of different modern browsers, and it seems to work well in all of them.

So why do I see this text every time I start up the service using the current shipping version of Chrome? "You are currently viewing Microsoft Office 365 with a web browser that may cause some pages to display incorrectly and some features to function in an unexpected way. You will have a better experience ... if you use one of these supported browsers."

The list does not include Chrome. Which is very strange, because according to the official software requirements page for Office 365, supported browsers and operating systems include:

  • Windows-based: Internet Explorer 8, Mozilla Firefox 3 or 4, Google Chrome 6, 7, 8, or 9 (OWA Light only); Internet Explorer 7 is supported with Windows Vista with Service Pack 2, and Internet Explorer 9 is supported with Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008. [emphasis added]
  • Mac-based: Safari 4 or 5
  • Linux-based: Firefox 3 or 4

That’s a fairly complete list. Commendable, even, and completely at odds with that warning. And what about that nagging disclaimer that only the light version of the Outlook Web App (“OWA Light”) is supported on Chrome? That also seems very odd, especially if you go to Microsoft’s official information page for Outlook Web App in Exchange 2010, which says, with no strings attached: “Works with all major browsers.”

On a separate support page (“Outlook Web App Supported Browsers”) for Exchange 2010, you’ll find this text:

To use the complete set of features available in Outlook Web App and the Web management interface, you can use the following browsers on a computer running Windows XP, Windows 2003, Windows Vista, or Windows 7:

  • Internet Explorer 7 and later versions.
  • Firefox 3.0.1 and later versions.
  • Chrome 3.0.195.27 and later versions.

Given that Exchange 2010 powers Office 365 mail, that seems to suggest that Chrome should be able to use all OWA features, doesn’t it?

This helpful blog page from a member of the Exchange team lays out the differences between the full and light versions of OWA in Exchange 2010. Based on this list and my testing, there’s no question that the Outlook Web App in Google Chrome has all features and is not a light version.

So why does that scary warning come up when you use Chrome to visit Office 365? I asked Microsoft, and got this noncommittal response from a spokesperson:

Office 365 is designed to work with the majority of browsers on the market, including Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox.  During this beta period, we have tested the performance of these browsers within the Office 365 experience, which has been very strong in the vast majority of cases.  We are aware of some functional issues associated with certain browsers in specific cases.  In these cases we display an error message to make sure our users are aware of potential problems before they proceed.

“We are aware of some functional issues…” Normally, when a beta product has some known issues, those are disclosed in a readme file or release notes so that testers don’t waste time on a broken feature (or file bug reports against it).

But not here, strangely. When I asked if Microsoft had any more details to share about these “functional issues,” I was told, “Not at this time.”

It’s convenient that this message occurs only on Chrome[*], which is probably the biggest threat to Microsoft going forward. (Sorry, Firefox.) In fact, in the absence of details, the sole purpose of this message seems to be to spread fear, uncertainly, and doubt about the wisdom of using a particular competitor’s software.

Just like the good old days.

Update on testing: The compatibility warning shown here also appears when using Safari on Windows and Opera on a Mac (I did not test Opera on Windows.) It does not appear when using the unsupported Firefox-on-OS X combination.) Also, when I manually tweaked Chrome so that it reports the same User-Agent string as IE8, it opened just fine with no warning.

Topics: Software, Browser, Collaboration, Google, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

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139 comments
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  • RE: New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

    Good catch, Ed and very interesting!
    samofdetroit
    • Move along, nothing to see here.

      @samofdetroit They are all just taking a cue from Google. Give every update to your browser a new version number so it looks like every minor update is really something new rather tnan what it really is...a minor update. Instead of Chrome 6, 6.1, 6.2 ect, we get 7, 8, 9, 10. IE will now be the same way. 9 actually was a major update, but 10? I have a feeling it should probably really be 9.1.

      Its all just hype. Who really cares?
      cornpie
      • What I think is interesting

        @cornpie

        Is they say they support Chrome 7,8,9 for sure. Chrome 10 is out. It updates itself immediately. I can understand Microsoft not blindly saying they support every new version of a browser. I'm guessing if you went back to Chrome 9 it wouldn't give you any issues.
        LiquidLearner
      • I have opted for Google docs

        And stay away from MS. Multiuser editing works wonders with Google docs. Only wish Google offered an offline version.<br><br>This old trick MS uses will backfire on them. It has with me.
        Uralbas
    • As a long time SharePoint admin ...

      @samofdetroit ...

      I can tell you that IE was the only browser to use with SharePoint for some time, unless you didn't want to access explorer views or other tight integration with Office. Office 365 should be pretty much the same deal, since SharePoint is a big part of it (I've only used it a little).

      Now, with IE 9, I'm not sure what's happening. As I transition to using IE 9 a lot more (from Chrome and IE 8) I see more and more MS stuff not working well in the new browser. I am trying to switch from Chrome but finding that I need Chrome as a backup when I hit some bump in Javascript or who knows what that prevents a page from loading.
      Schoolboy Bob
      • RE: New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

        @Schoolboy Bob

        I dont' for see MS every supporting Chrome 100%. Why? Well Chrome was aimed to be the Second option in Windows 7 but MS decided they didn't' want anything to do with the back end and high potential for Google to spy. In a Mail app, Spying is Bad, so I can see why MS wouldnt' support it 100%, and basically they may not be able to support it 100%. With Chrome 10 and required updating, that is just a Dumb expectation. Why would MS want to rebuilt a Cloud app to suite the frequently updated Chrome? To much money in there to throw away for sure.

        The App probably works in FireFox because well MS has patching access for there .net framework, and FireFox/Mozilla is on board with it, so that is a Natural expectation that FireFox would support it close enough to not worry about security issues.

        I commend MS for the choice not that I am a loyal IE users, or MS fan boy, but Chrome really isn't that great and I wish it to be killed. Stick to cell phones Google, and Fix your Android!!
        Ez_Customs
    • RE: New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

      @samofdetroit I'm with you on this one Sam, great catch by Ed and a very interesting article, thanks also for the link Ed to that blog page for the comparison chart of the "full" and "light" versions of the OWA. Just to throw my own opinion at this and Sam you may even agree, hopefully you do too Ed, but this browser compatibility war/issues has driven me just about mad. I mean about 3 or 4 weeks ago IE9 and Firefox 4 was forced on most everyone that had "auto updates" (maybe it was just me, I don't know) but I do notice a lot more people using it now... but it any event when both of them came out it was TOTAL CHAOS for me and my staff. I mean almost every website we have ever built, especially ones using Wordpress/Joomla/Drupal or any of those with the back-end CMS's had a BIG ISSUE... I mean it's hard enough to keep up with just the updates from those 3 vendors alone (wordpress etc), but to have to keep up with 5 different browsers and new versions every couple of months, it's getting ridiculous in my opinion Ed and Sam. I hope to see some "consolidation" and "mergers" in the future so we can free up all this clutter.

      Great article again Ed! Cheers,
      Jeremiah R.
      Chairman & CEO
      http://www.thenerdblurb.com
      http://www.tnbhosting.com
      masterjere
    • RE: New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

      Its simple. Alot of companies do not see chrome as a true browser to support. Personal I find it one of the worst out there.
      rparker009
    • RE: New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

      @samofdetroit
      How is this different from Google not offering IE as an option when they launched Wave? They believed at the time that they had a killer product which they could use to hurt IE.
      Coming to the point, having been involved with browser compatibility testing, I have seen products getting released with caveats about certain browser versions. This looks something like that. For all the conspiracy theories out here to make this article look sensational, it might just be that Chrome 10 flunked a few browser compat tests which might not be so apparent to normal web surfers. Maybe a storm in a tea cup? Sometimes it doesn't hurt to take things at face value.
      mm71
  • RE: New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

    It doesn't make sense, if this is FUD, for Microsoft to recommend Firefox and Safari - where's the advantage in sending people to your competitors?

    Does this message appear in Opera? If so, it's probably a generic "we haven't finished testing this in this browser" thing.<br><br>As a tangent, a Google search for "Office 365 Chrome" gave me this link: <br><br><a href="http://community.office365.com/en-us/f/154/p/1413/4601.aspx" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://community.office365.com/en-us/f/154/p/1413/4601.aspx</a><br><br>I'd say not being able to edit a document in Office would be cause for a warning about potential issues.<br><br>(I also found the release notes at <a href="http://community.office365.com/en-us/w/release-notes/default.aspx" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://community.office365.com/en-us/w/release-notes/default.aspx</a>, but they don't mention Chrome - or any browser for that matter, except for one issue with IE.)
    MarkKB
    • Message has been deleted.

      DavidL98
      • RE: New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

        @DavidL98 <br>This works both ways, and well Chrome (and Safari) has some issues, that might pose problems. <br><br>For example, webkit catches events in certain situations different than all other major and minor browser. What for? (Try html tags within a html button element and wonder why webkit doesn't catch a submit event, while all other browser do.) Easy to fix, but nevertheless, with major vendors adding new HTMl5 stuff, I expected things to get worse before they get better. Not only IE should stick to standards...<br><br>Besides Chromes purpose seem to be to tie people to Goggle. No thanks...
        Herbalite
      • RE: New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

        @ Herbalite
        ...and IE ties you to winblows and virussoft.
        So what? It's up to you to choose the second rate IE or Chrome which is lightning fast, excellent standards support thanks to WebKit and doesn't have the huge security issues IE has and always had.
        Mikael_z
    • RE: New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

      @MarkKB if they only list their own browers, likely they would be hit with another antitrust lawsuit.
      Bucky24
      • Message has been deleted.

        Ez_Customs
    • RE: New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

      @MarkKB

      Actaully Extending support and Functionality to competitors computer manufactures is good because now not only do they get paid for there own platform they get paid by the competitor to use it, or for sure to show others what else is out there. IT is a Marketing and advertising thing buddy. and it is wise for them to do it. Just like Apple does it to MS Operating systems, and browser platforms!! Hello Safari, Built for MAC ported PC, iTunes Garbage, Plug-ins for IE less for firefox, nothing for chorme for example! it simply extends the user base, and that is a good thing
      Ez_Customs
  • RE: New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

    No worries here, because I don't use chrome anyway because most of the web sites I visit regularly don't render properly on Chrome including ZDNET. The same stuff gets rendered neatly on IE, FireFox, and Safari for me.
    Ram U
    • RE: New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

      @Rama.NET Strange, I have been using Chrome since it came out and I have never had any problem with ZDNET.
      silverlake43
      • Message has been deleted.

        sackbut
      • RE: New browser war, same old dirty tricks?

        @silverlake43
        I never had issues with older chrome, I have issues with recent chrome. and I was using chrome on my linux box, to remind you. I moved to FF on Linux Box.
        Ram U