Opera to Stop Spoofing IE User Agent

In an effort to raise its bottom-rung ranking in Web browser usage statistics, Opera Software is changing a longstanding policy of spoofing the Internet Explorer user agent in its browser. Starting with version 8.02 Opera will now identify itself as Opera with optional spoofing on a per-site basis.

The user agent is a string of data sent by Web browsers, which enables Web sites to custom tailor functionality depending on what technology is supported by a specific browser. For example, DHTML supported only by Internet Explorer can be disabled for visitors using Firefox.

However, user agents have also been used improperly by site owners to restrict those with perfectly valid browsers, such as Opera, from visiting. Microsoft's MSN portal has even supplied Opera with broken HTML code in the past. To counteract this, Opera has long pretended to be IE.

But a result of this spoofing has been extremely poor showings in recent Web browser usage surveys, which have become an important benchmark as alternate browsers such as Firefox slowly chip at Microsoft's Internet Explorer dominance.

Opera held 0.59 percent of the browser market in June, according to Web monitoring firm NetApplications, while Firefox reached 8.71 percent.

Recognizing that switching to its own user agent could disrupt the viewing of some Web sites, Opera now includes the ability to change its identity per-site. By default Opera will announce its true self, which the company hopes will raise awareness among webmasters that Opera must be kept in mind.

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