Opera unleashes Swedish Chef on MSN

Niche browser maker Opera Software ASA is taking a swing at software Goliath Microsoft Corp., releasing a new version of its Opera 7 for Windows browser that operates normally on every Web page but one, that of Microsoft's MSN.

The new browser, dubbed the Opera 7 "Bork" edition, translates the language on the MSN page to that of the famous Swedish Chef Bork from The Muppet Show.

Why the Swedish Chef? According to Opera's Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Hakon Lie, "The Swedish Chef is probably the most famous Scandinavian in this generation and he's also very hard to understand and therefore has some similarity with the pages MSN sends to Opera users."

The cheeky move, announced Friday, comes in retaliation to the discovery two weeks ago that the MSN portal was targeting Opera users by providing them with a purposely broken page, Opera said.

The Oslo, Norway, software maker has been at odds with Microsoft for quite some time, claiming that the leading Internet browser maker has been engaging in not-so-friendly competition. Opera said that its users were completely blocked from the MSN site in October of 2001, and although Microsoft has changed its policy since then in response to user complaints, the software giant continues to single Opera out by sending its users what appear to be intentionally broken pages.

Lie said that the MSN pages are now available to users of Opera 7, but users of older versions of the browser still receive distorted MSN pages, that are oddly laid out and have missing content.

No one from Microsoft was immediately available to comment on the accusations Friday.

Although Microsoft clearly has a dominance in the desktop browser market with its Internet Explorer product, Lie said that he believes Opera is being singled out because of its growing strength in the mobile devices market, where it represents tougher competition. Opera recently inked deals with mobile phone makers Nokia Corp. and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB.

While Lie admits that Opera is taking a "tongue in cheek" approach to the rivalry with the release of the Bork edition browser, he said that the move highlights a serious matter.

"We want to make people laugh but we also want to generate a serious response," he said. "It's better to try to solve it this way than through a lawsuit."

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