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A Microsoft Catch-22

Damien Barrett
10.31.05
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Get a load of this. I try to use the festering bowl of pus that is Internet Explorer 5 as little as possible but keep it around for those few websites that require Internet Explorer. However, I  support thousands of users who do use IE5 regularly. Most of them simply don't know any better and continue to use IE5 installed on their systems despite the superior alternatives that exist. I even install these alternatives on their machines, but like Pavlov's dogs, they are conditioned to repeat their behavior. Ah, but I digress.

A few years ago, Microsoft started making http://www.msn.com the default homepage for their installations of Internet Explorer 5. I didn't personally like the move but at least I knew how to change my default homepage. The majority of my users do not know how to do this and so end up, just as Microsoft planned, staring at msn.com every time they launch their browsers.

Now, this is relatively harmless behavior until you take into account a change that Microsoft made either late last week or sometime this weekend. They've made a change to http://www.msn.com that crashes Internet Explorer 5 for the Macintosh. Yup, that's right...Microsoft has changed the coding on the default homepage for their IE5 browser on the Mac that crashes the very browser in question. And it gets worse. Since the only easy way to change the default homepage in IE5 is to do it in the browser itself (in the Preferences) and the browser is crashing with a spinning beachball of death (SBOD) when you launch it, there's now a classic Catch-22. How can users change the homepage to something else if you have to do it in the browser, but the browser crashes loading the page?

Fortunately, there is a way around this. You can hit the Command and period keys immediately after launching IE5 to stop the page from loading and therefore stop the browser from locking up. Then you can go to the Internet Explorer menu and select Preferences. Click on "browser display" in the list and you'll be able to change IE5's default homepage to something other than msn.com.

I've tested this on Macs running Mac OS X versions 10.2.8, 10.3.9, and 10.4.3. Internet Explorer 5 on all of them behaves exactly the same way, crashing trying to load the msn.com homepage. Discontinued browser or not, I feel it's inexcusable for Microsoft to change their browser's default homepage without testing it against all the latest versions of their own browser for each platform. Congratulations Microsoft for reaching a new level of cluelessness I've never seen before. Way to go.

Updates:
11-01-05, 8:40am: Microsoft has changed msn.com to fix this problem.
11-01-05, 1:53pm: Now msn.com is crashing IE5 again.

 

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