We've got to decide how to get the word out we're not just at MIT
 Some mention is better than none
 Hey, the LA Times gave me 500 frequent flier miles as a prize for
fetching this through their customized newspaper filter :-)
Saturday, August 17, 1996
War Between Microsoft and Netscape Creates a Vexing Schism
) ) Technology: Goliath's bid to unseat David in Internet browser dominance
means headaches for content developers.
By _LESLIE HELM_, JULIE PITTA, Times Staff Writers
SEATTLE--Microsoft is making important headway in its effort to unseat
Netscape as the Internet's dominant power, but the intensifying battle between
the two companies is creating a major split in the Net and new headaches for
Net developers who are being pressure to take sides.
Netscape is responding to Microsoft's marketing barrage for the
Internet Explorer World Wide Web browser with the formal release Monday of its
newest browser, Netscape 3.0. The new Netscape product includes a feature
that will turn users' e-mail baskets into repositories of multimedia files.
Hardly rocket science, says Microsoft. And even though Microsoft's
latest release was found to have a bug--the browser causes problems on sites
that require a password--experts say the software giant has momentum on its
Although it is still well behind Netscape's 70% share in the so-called
browser war, Microsoft has more than doubled its share in the last two months,
to about 16%. While cynics say Microsoft is merely buying market share by
offering free subscriptions to users and advertising dollars to Web sites,
most agree that Explorer now is every bit as good as Navigator.
The end result is that a market in which Netscape once set the de facto
standard is increasingly being split in two.
This division could be further accentuated by Microsoft's effort to
impose a new Web site development technology called Active X, an upgrade of
OLE--a technology used in advanced Windows applications--that provides a way
of combining reusable software components.
While it's a clever approach--software components used in thousands of
Windows programs could be reused to build Web sites--the effort is a direct
challenge to an emerging industry standard.
A competing group that includes IBM, Netscape and 680 other companies
is backing an alternative standard that would work not only with Windows but
with virtually every device that might one day be connected to the Internet.
Such standards battles are putting Internet content developers in a quandary.
"It's a royal pain in the neck," says Paul Sagan, president of new
media at Time Inc., which runs the popular Pathfinder site. "We have to be
sure our Web designs conform to both" companies' browsers.
Typically that means ignoring the flashy new features made possible by
Microsoft's Active X as well as Netscape's various proprietary features.
Net surfers using Netscape's browser to view a Web site optimized for
Microsoft's browser face results that "range from mildly annoying to a systems
crash," says Joshua Greer, chief executive of Digital Planet, a Culver City
Web design firm.
"The only way to solve the problem is to have a standard that is
written down on a piece of paper," says Eric Schmidt, chief technology officer
for Sun Microsystems Inc., developer of the Java programming language adopted
by both Netscape and Microsoft.
When it comes to the battle over Active X, even standards-setting
bodies are throwing up their hands.
"This is a major industry battle," says Jim Miller, a research
scientist with the World Wide Web Consortium, the key standards-setting body
for the Web, based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We can't
mediate this. It's a political issue; it's not technical."
Microsoft, with its huge war chest and its control over 80% of the
world's PC desktops, is well-positioned for a long battle. The company will
soon integrate its browser tightly into its Windows operating system, for
example, a measure analysts say will increase its power to shape the future of
Netscape plans to respond by both integrating its browser into desktop
operating systems, like Microsoft, and by building browsers that can be
designed right into set-top boxes, hand-held computers, TVs and network
But those new browsers won't be ready until sometime next year, and in
Internet time that could be way too late.
Following its offer Monday of hundreds of dollars' worth of free
subscriptions to popular Web sites such as Wall Street Journal Interactive and
ESPN SportsZone to those who use its latest browser, tens of thousands of Net
surfers are downloading the Microsoft browser everyday. The percentage of Web
surfers using Explorer to visit SportsZone jumped to 12% last week from 4.5%
on Aug. 1.
And Microsoft is offering lucrative incentives to content providers to
use Active X technology on their Web sites.
In exchange for getting a new TV Guide-style site called NetGuide Live
to use Active X, "Microsoft committed themselves to a significant amount of
advertising," says Newt Barrett, publisher of the new service. Barrett says
his site will also be included in Microsoft's list of hot Web sites.
Hollywood Online, which is owned by Times Mirror Co., said traffic to
its site increased between 30% and 40% after it included Active X features and
was featured on the Microsoft list.
Observers expect Microsoft's browser share to jump again when
CompuServe and America Online begin offering a customized version of Internet
Explorer to their millions of subscribers early next month.
Still, many analysts say Netscape's large share ensures it a strong
position for some time to come. "Microsoft isn't going to be able to use
[Active X] to squeeze out Netscape and the 85% of the Internet traffic it
represents," says John Robb, analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester
Copyright Los Angeles Times