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Office 97's browser discrimination

Microsoft is attempting to clear up confusion surrounding a Web site posting which leads users to believe they need IE to download a software update.

Microsoft is attempting to clear up confusion surrounding a Web site posting which leads users to believe they need the company's Internet Explorer browser to download a software update.

The company said that due to user complaints, it is rewriting the introduction to its Office update page, after Office 97 users who attempted to download the latest service release using Netscape Communications' browser were led to believe they had to use Internet Explorer 4.01 to get the latest Office update.

The introduction states that for users to see a full listing of updated files for its Office 97 desktop application package, posted to Microsoft's Web site, downloaders must use Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.01 browser. Netscape users can only see a "limited edition" version of the latest service release contents.

But users interpreted the message to mean that Netscape users could not download the full contents of the Office update.

One user explained the experience in an email to CNET News.com: "If you go up to the link with Netscape, the page loads halfway, then wipes clean, and says 'You are not running Internet Explorer 4.01, so you will get a limited edition. Please download IE 4.01,'" he wrote.

Office product manager John Duncan said the dual Web page strategy is not an attempt to get Netscape browser users to switch over to IE 4.01, and he insists the update will be the same for every Office 97 user regardless of what browser they use to download the patch.

Duncan insists the Office 97 SR 2 update is the same for Netscape and IE 4.01 users alike. However, on other parts of the Office site, there are add-ons, Office catalogues, and templates that take advantage of new functionality found in IE 4.01 and can only be used by that browser.

While the Office update files are available to users of either browser, the language from the update site seems to indicate otherwise.

"Although this limited edition contains links to all Office updates, service releases, and downloads, the full edition of Office Update has many more features, such as rich, interactive catalogs of Office downloads that let you sort, filter, and expand information. The full edition is also very fast because much of the shared formatting and scripting is only downloaded once. To experience the benefits of the full edition of OfficeUpdate, you'll need to use Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.01 or above," the company wrote.

"If this isn't discriminating I don't know what is," wrote the disgruntled user.

Microsoft now says it is changing the wording of the introduction to end the confusion.

Office users complained about the update site in postings to Internet newsgroups devoted to Office.

The circumstance is not unique to the Office update. Last year, users of Windows NT Server, the fast-growing server-side operating system, were told to use the latest version of IE--release 4.01--to install components of an "Option Pack" of updated functions.