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High-Tech Times Article 012

Microsoft Pros and Cons

Microsoft-bashing is a very popular pastime today, and as in every battle, there are two sides to this story.  For those of you who aren't aware of it (so why are you bothering to read this computer newspaper?), on May 18th the U.S. Justice Department filed an antitrust suit against Microsoft on bundling its Internet Explorer (IE) Web browser with Windows.  The DOJ alleges that Microsoft is forcing other Web browser vendors, notably Netscape Navigator, out of existence by making IE an integral part of its operating systems (O/S).

Let me start off this discussion by admitting that I've been a Microsoft dealer since Windows 1.0, and a developer for the past decade.  Microsoft's products have definitely improved over the years, and I use a lot of them in my business -- but not all of them by any means: I'm an inveterate user of Navigator, based on some 30 factors that are highly important to me.

Okay, here's what I perceive as the good side of Microsoft.

It was not that many years ago when I had to buy memory management software, task-switching, and a graphical user interface from three different companies, not all of whose products appreciated each other.  And who can forget those wonderful times of trying to get our video board driver to work correctly with our mouse, network, and scanner drivers?  You would have to be either a real masochist or own a lot of stock in UNIX to argue that we should all go back to those days!  So from this, you may conclude that it makes some sense to bundle IE from a customer standpoint, not just from Microsoft's competitive interests.

Microsoft continues to provide performance enhancements (usually) and quality-control improvements (usually) that make my job a lot easier and faster.  As an engineer with 35-plus years of using computers as tools, I firmly believe that the operating system is the real key to making computing user-friendly, accessing the maximum amount of raw processing-power in our hardware, and providing time-saving integrated features like multi-tasking and networking that were only a gleam in the far distance just a few short years ago.  Microsoft has done an admirable job of providing these capabilities for all of us who use the Intel platform.

And antitrust laws exist to protect us consumers, at least according to my lawyer, and this protection usually applies to monopolistic price increases in a non-competitive market.  Unless I blinked, though, there have been zero price increases for Windows 95 and NT.  And one of my clients gave me what may be the best reason for including IE with Windows 95: "How else could I have downloaded Netscape Navigator?"

In what I call the "gray area," Microsoft claims that their Internet Explorer is free because it is bundled with Windows 95, 98, and NT.  But IE is also free for those who want to download it for the Macintosh O/S and UNIX; this tends to badly dilute Microsoft's allegations that IE is solely a part and parcel of their operating system.  Ed Black, president of the 25-year-old Computer & Communications Industry Association, claimed in a brief to the DOJ that "Windows and IE are two distinct products and that a browser is not part of a computer's operating system,"

On the downright nasty side, we have IE as the only initial doorway to the Internet's World-Wide Web for Windows 98.  Web access is a major component of millions of people's work, entertainment, and even education (mine included).  In fact, studies show that in many industries, Internet access accounts for more of the time people spend on their computers than anything else.

Looking back just a few years, Bill Gates admits that he was completely blindsided by the instant success of the Internet.  But, never the slow learner, Bill put the original IE on fast-track development, and today it's estimated that 38-42 percent of all end-users have IE as their interface.  And Bill was obviously not satisfied with the number-two spot behind Netscape (47-53%).  His IE team started throwing all kinds of new resources (and mucho money) into the fray.

Back last October, Sun Microsystems pulled their Java programming tools from IE because Microsoft had started advertising their own version of Java.  Then when Bill announced that Windows 98 and Windows 95 OSR2.5 would have IE tightly integrated as their browser, the U.S. government decided to step in.  On October 22, 1997, Janet Reno proclaimed, "Microsoft is unlawfully taking advantage of its Windows monopoly to protect and extend that monopoly and undermine consumer choice."  And consumer advocate Ralph Nader said in an article in Microsoft's own e‑zine, Slate, "Not content with its enormous market share in PC software, Microsoft wants to hold our hand as we navigate the information superhighway, and to push us ‑ not so subtly ‑ toward its own partners or subsidiaries."

And it is this target that the DOJ should have attacked, in my humble opinion.  Stop and think: Why is Microsoft so adamant that everyone use Internet Explorer instead of Netscape navigator?  They're giving it away, so Microsoft certainly isn't making any sales revenues from IE.  I contend that Bill Gates has his sights set on IE's predetermined site links and Active Desktop channels as the main reason.

These built-in, unchangeable links and channels unfairly influence consumers - you and me - to use Web sites and services owned by Microsoft and its business partners!  Just look at Microsoft's MNBC television site (and don't forget all the paid advertisers there), travel service, and CarPoint car-buying services, if you don't believe me.  I personally do not think it's at all fair or right to push consumers to the Web sites that Microsoft chooses: What does this have to do with operating systems technologies?

I met with one of my clients last week who had just upgraded to Windows 98 (against my recommendations), and had also just started browsing the Internet.  He really believed that the links on his Active Desktop were the Internet!!  It took me nearly an hour to convince him that he had the freedom to go to any of the other millions of Web sites, rather than just what IE offered.  And when an experienced businessman (who happens to be a Net novice) reacts like this, you can be sure that there millions of other novices out there who are similarly unfairly misinformed.

Has anyone besides me tried to install a copy of Netscape Navigator on an originally-equipped (non-upgraded) Windows 98 computer?  If you've succeeded, please e-mail me privately at <>.  If you are using IE 3.0 or above, I highly recommend that you visit the Web site for "Luckman's Anonymous Cookie for Internet Privacy" utility. Check out for this completely free utility, and some fine links to material on cookies.  Says Brent Luckman, "Cookie files are the key issue in the Internet privacy controversy because they allow companies to invade your privacy and access your personal information and preferences." The "Anonymous Cookie" utility allows for a slick way around the problem.

In closing, I believe that the DOJ has missed its mark in the landmark legal case against Microsoft.  The real issue here isn't the money to be made by Microsoft or Netscape on their browser sales; rather, it's the dominance of Microsoft to leverage promotion of its products, services, and friends to the exclusion of anyone else.  And isn't that what antitrust legislation is supposed to protect consumers - and competitors - against?