Practical Technology

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Hotmail does work–badly–with Linux


Linux-Watch has reported that at least one Linux user was unable to use the newly redesigned Windows Live Hotmail. Other Linux desktop users have also reported problems with the new Hotmail.

However, a closer look reveals that the problem isn’t with Linux and Hotmail’s interoperability, but with how Hotmail handles browsers with “UserAgent” settings that it doesn’t recognize. The User-Agent string is sent by your browser to the Web server hosting the site you’re visiting. This character string, at the least, identifies your Web browser to the server. It usually also contains optional details, which are called tokens. These typically include your operating system, language, and hardware. For example, my UserString at my main desktop is:

Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux x86_64; en-US; rv: Gecko/2008091700 SUSE/3.0.3-1.1 Firefox/3.0.3

That tells the Web server that I’m using a Mozilla 5.0 compatible Web browser, on a PC with X11 windowing running on a 64-bit SUSE Linux system using the Gecko Web rendering engine and the Firefox 3.03 Web browser.

You can see what your browser is reporting to servers by visiting the, What is my User Agent Web site. Notice I didn’t say ‘what your browser actually is,’ I said. ‘what it’s reporting itself to be to servers.’ It’s a big difference and that’s where the fix for the Hotmail problem comes from.

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