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MZ Reader James Russell On MS and Mozilla

by JAMES RUSSELL | Having read much of the trial evidence before now, much of Judge Jackson's findings of fact were not new to me. For instance, I had known of Microsoft leveraging Mac Office against Apple to get the smaller company to not only replace Navigator with Internet Explorer (IE) as its default Internet browser, but further disallowing Apple from even placing the Navigator icon on the Mac desktop, or even suggesting to users that Navigator was an alternative to IE, employing similar tactics with AOL, leveraging the ubiquitous Windows desktop (specifically the Online Services folder) and Active Desktop Channel Bar to do so. I hadn't known that not only were those who were included in the Channel Bar disallowed from linking to, and from even mentioning, Navigator on their Web sites, they were disallowed even from advertising through Netscape by any means, including on Netcenter or Navigator.

The depths to which Microsoft went to leverage IE amazed me. When companies had licenses with Netscape, Microsoft offered to pay the licenses for the companies. Microsoft developed software to allow developers to easily switch from Navigator, software that any software company would have charged money for, and gave it away. One by one the company squeezed all of the major distribution points that Netscape had to offer its browser to customers, including through Internet service providers (ISPs), Internet content providers (Web sites like CNN.com), and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs, like Compaq and Gateway), leaving Netscape able to rely only on customers seeking out and downloading Navigator, or sending the browser on CD with minor ISPs (Microsoft covered all of the major ones except GTE).

Microsoft displayed behavior alienating OEMs, proving the company cared more about crushing the Navigator browser than it did about keeping good relationships with its most important customers and proving that the company knew that OEMs had no alternative but to comply and, thus, admitting that there was no competition in the market for IBM-compatible PC operating systems market. One such OEM actually sent a letter to Microsoft stating that, had the company any alternative to Windows, they would cease doing business with Microsoft. No such alternative is obviously available.

What I did not get before these findings were released was the connection between Netscape and Sun's Java - that Microsoft saw Navigator as a danger because the software was quickly becoming available on all Windows computers. And, coupled as it was with Sun's Java APIs that would allow programmers to begin developing programs for multiple operating systems (and thus draw companies away from Windows-only APIs), that Microsoft needed to stop Netscape from helping Java lure customers to multiplatform code development. Were such a thing to happen, soon it would not matter which operating system was used on a computer as to what programs could be made for it. So Microsoft used IE to distribute a version of the Java virtual machine (JVM) that included tags and proprietary features that would make the subsequent Java code virtually unportable to other OSs, enabling such Windows-dependent APIs by default without warning to the programmers that using the tags would make Java Windows-dependent. When Intel was optimizing its new multimedia software - additional platform independent APIs - for Sun's new Java class libraries that would have allowed programmers to include certain multimedia features in Java applications as a feature in its processors, Microsoft told Intel it would stop supporting Intel and its processors if it did not drop the project with Sun. Intel dropped the project.

The worst part of all of this is that Microsoft has succeeded in at the very least delaying multiplatform development by half a decade, if not longer. As long as IE is allowed to distribute Windows-dependent versions of the JVM - which is currently used on more than half the computers in the world - companies are discouraged from using Java APIs that will not work with IE, because doing so would make it so that less than half of Web surfers would be able to make use of the features that those APIs provided.

The interesting part of all this for Mozilla users is that Microsoft is, through its murder of Netscape as a commercially viable product, directly responsible for the Mozilla open source effort. In first forcing Netscape to offer its software for free, and then reducing the company's browser distribution options to the point that Netscape finally sought other avenues for revenue (i.e., Netcenter) and eventually subject to merging with AOL, Microsoft drove Navigator to the point it was no longer directly a financial benefit to Netscape, or AOL. Had Microsoft not so brutally attacked Netscape on every front, Navigator may well have retained its viability as software the company could make money from, and Mozilla would most likely not be open source as it is today, and dubiously be the quality product that it is quickly showing itself to be.

The question is, can Mozilla help repair the damage Microsoft has done to the multiplatform "write once, run anywhere" effort - i.e., helping Java make Windows irrelevant? Well, maybe. Firstly, Mozilla is good code, small, and efficient. In the desktop environment, this will be a difficult task while every version of Windows shipped anywhere comes with IE, and IE only. But with the trial reaching an end, companies everywhere are waking up to the fact that they have become a significant part of Microsoft's effort to retain its monopoly standing and dictate Internet standards that rely on the Windows platform. AOL will use the IE browser in its branded ISP until at least January 2001, and AOL users represent 30 percent of the total browser market. However, AOL is not bound to use IE in other ventures, including the Netscape Online ISP the company is planning to release based upon Netscape Communicator 5.0. Still, I don't see Netscape taking back the lion's share of the market without AOL, and thus IE looks to retain its market share for the forseeable future.

IE's only saving factor is its prominence on Windows machines. Once IE achieved what Microsoft had intended it to, as described above, Microsoft relegated IE development to a lesser position in its development efforts, hence the reason IE5 was released without major improvements over IE4 - the company no longer has incentive to expend huge resources to improve a product they know they'll never make a dime from.

But Mozilla is a huge improvement over 4.x-style browsers, and it's small, efficient, and a shoe-in for embedded Internet appliances. The smallest version of IE is 27MB, and even in componentized form, IE is far too large for any company to seriously consider embedding in information appliances. This is a market that IE, and WindowsCE, are sorely lacking in size and quality, and for this reason, it is in the information appliance market that Mozilla is likely to shine the brightest. Mozilla's strength is in its ability to be fully featured and yet small and embeddable, and AOL's recent $800 million dollar deal with Gateway and its Amiga subsidiary, with whom it will partner to develop information appliances based upon a Java and Linux based operating environment, speaks volumes for where AOL is looking to leverage Mozilla and pursue its "AOL Anywhere" strategy.

So will Mozilla take back desktops for Netscape? Probably not all at once, and definitely not, for the most part, on Windows machines; the sad fact is that most PC users will not go searching out a browser to download and install themselves when their computer comes with one that is, to them, perfectly functional.

But the future belongs to Mozilla.

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