Yesterday I wrote about Friendster's redesigned mobile site. It's generally pretty good except for one major usability issue. The problem is that Friendster is forcing all mobile browsers to use the mobile site, even "full-web" browsers like Opera Mini and Nokia Webkit which can easily handle the full version of Friendster.
Several Opera Mini using Friendster members were upset enough about this to complain on the Opera Mini support forum at MyOpera.com. Today Opera answered their complaints in a rather surprising way. Opera made a server upgrade that solved the problem. If you go to Friendster.com now with Opera mini, you will see the full web version of Friendster. If you prefer the mobile edition, just go to m.friendster.com.
So how did Opera accomplish this? I don't really know and Opera hasn't said but I'd be willing to bet that they are sending a desktop User Agent header instead of the normmal Opera Mini one if the request is going to the friendster.com domain. This is great for Friendster users and another demonstration of the incredible support Opera gives to the users of it's free Opera Mini product. This is not the first time Opera has tweaked something to work around an issue that effects relatively few users. They've sent engineers to the US to get Mini working on the Sprint and Nextel networks and worked around model specific handset bugs to give landscape support to the old Samsung A900/920 and many similar fixes based on requests from a few users.
I do have mixed feelings about User Agent spoofing, though. Opera is a company that's very serious about web standards. There have been a number of requests from users on the forum asking Opera to change Mini's User Agent to a desktop one so that sites wouldn't be tempted to force the mobile version like Friendster does. These requests have always be refused with the explanation that Opera doesn't believe in spoofing sites into believing that Opera Mini is anything but Opera Mini. This is understandable, Opera rightly wants Mini's true market share to be reflected in web statistics. More importantly, the User Agent is intended to identify the browser, changing it to make badly designed web sites work the way they should, while appreciated by users, does nothing to solve the larger problem of site designers blocking access to content on the basis of what browser is being used. I suspect that Opera contacted Friendster and tried to get them to treat Mini like a full web browser and only after that failed implemented the User Agent workaround.
Other changes in the Opera Mini server update (from the Opera Mini Blog):
- Added more country-specific default feeds. Will only show up on new installations.
- Added onClick events to the SVG support.
- Fixed compatibility with Outlook Web Access.
- JAD files can now only be opened, not saved.
- Improved support for radio buttons with onFocus attributes. This fixed problems with logging in to at least one site.
- Added a workaround to get to the desktop version of Friendster.
Because it's a server upgrade, no downloads are needed, just fire up Opera Mini and enjoy.