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Browser Wars

May 9, 1997
by Pat McClellan

The latest chapter in the browser wars has US Attorney General Janet Reno claiming that Microsoft isn't playing fair. The US Justice Department's antitrust division is asking the federal courts to impose fines of $1,000,000 per day on Microsoft for what it says is a violation of anti-competition laws.

That's right, a million dollars a day. Sounds like a lot to you and me, but that's pocket change to Uncle Bill. (When the stock market took a plunge on Oct 27th, Bill Gates lost a reported $1.6 billion on paper... of course he made most of it back the next day when the market rebounded.)

The meat of the issue is whether Microsoft can require PC makers like Dell, Compaq, IBM, and Gateway 2000 to include Internet Explorer on the computers equipped with Windows 95. The US government claims that Microsoft is using the operating system to leverage in Internet Explorer.

As developers, we have the opportunity to analyze this situation with a bit more clarity than the court. Heck, we've USED browsers. I doubt if those federal judges could find Yahoo without a search engine! On the other hand, many of us are devoted Mac & Netscape users who love to flame on MS & Bill Gates as though he were Beelzebub himself. So here's my take on it.

Consider the fact that at last year's MUCON, there was a panel discussion which included Marc Andresen and John Ludwig (Microsoft's IE head). They were asked about the next generation of browsers and they agreed that the logical evolution of the browser was to become increasingly integrated with the computer's operating system and applications.

So, essentially, isn't that what Microsoft is doing? It makes perfect sense to have MS Word interact seemlessly with MS Excel. Why not have Internet Explorer an integrated part of Windows 95? Can you fault MS for trying to have their products work as a seemless package? Macromedia is working very hard to achieve the same sort of integration with its products -- and we're happy about that.

I'll concede that having the dominant operating system as a marketing lever is an enormous advantage. However, nobody cried "foul" when Microsoft included MS Office on machines that ship with Win 95. As a consumer, I was thrilled to get a free copy on Office when I bought my PC. I would want to receive a browser for any future computer that I purchase.

But is Microsoft's activity anti-competitive? I think that MS would cross the line IF they made Windows 95 incompatible with Netscape's products. But it's not. MS would cross the line IF they prohibited PC makers from including Netscape's products on the machines they ship. But they're not.

MS would cross the line IF the free licensing were a TEMPORARY marketing move designed to kill Netscape so that MS can THEN dominate the market and fleece consumers. That's a real possibility, and one of which we should be weary. But the indications are that, soon, you won't be able to separate the browser from the OS. So the concept that MS is plotting to make zillions off of a browser monopoly is not likely. More likely, MS considers an OS without an integrated browser as unviable.

OK, I've asked for it. Flame away! But don't tell me that I'm wrong because Netscape is better. I agree. I use Netscape. And don't tell me I'm wrong because Bill Gates and Microsoft are evil overlords out to rule the world. I'm not arguing THAT point either way. I want you to tell me why you think Microsoft is anti-competitive when they ask PC makers to include IE with Windows 95.

Patrick McClellan is Director Online's co-founder. Pat is Vice President, Managing Director for Jack Morton Worldwide, a global experiential marketing company. He is responsible for the San Francisco office, which helps major technology clients to develop marketing communications programs to reach enterprise and consumer audiences.

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