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OPINION AUGUST 27, 2001
Talkin' Smack: At It Again

[Page 2 of 2]

In the meantime, Internet Explorer was slowly taking over market share—not only on the peecee, but on the Mac as well, after Microsoft "seeded" Apple in the latter's moment of need. (Yep, Gates sure does know how to spread his seed all over everybody.) Strangely enough, on the Mac platform, it was not only taking over, but it was also getting better. Say what you like about Microsoft, but their Mac development team is actually quite talented (not counting the Word 6 fiasco).

I myself made the switch to Explorer at version 5.5. Netscape Communicator had simply gotten too slow, clumsy and crashy to tolerate anymore.

Now, of course, Internet Explorer does dominate the browser market. Up until last week, this hadn't seemed like such a bad thing. It had seemed, after all, that Microsoft had mellowed in its competition-crushing tactics in favor of a more "we're all on the same team" approach to world domination. It was a lull, albeit a short one, in Microsoft's schemes.

It wasn't really a lull, of course. It was time well spent in reformulating a new strategy in light of the government's case against Microsoft. The secret of competition now is slow, steady progress toward the end of everything as we know it. (Kind of like the government itself. Touché.) The first phase is the end of Netscape. The second phase is the elimination of any conceivable competition. The third phase is ownership of the market. The last phase is realizing profit from all the expense that went into making Internet Explorer the dominant browser. In other words, the free ride isn't going to last much longer.

Netscape has already all but conceded to Microsoft. They haven't lost yet, but they can see what we all saw forming some six years ago—the end.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has already started consolidating its position in the market.

A step in the wrong direction
Last week we learned that the latest versions of Internet Explorer for Windows no longer support Netscape plugins, including QuickTime. (Apple, however, instantly developed an Active-X control to make QuickTime work with the new Explorers.) Your initial reaction would be, "Why is Microsoft making itself incompatible with virtually every browser plugin on the market?" They're not making themselves incompatible. They're making Netscape and everybody else incompatible. Just as they did with the Macintosh and SGI and every platform that has come and gone, from Amiga to OS/2 to even Microsoft's own non-Intel-based systems.

So now you say, hey, what does it matter? People can keep using Netscape with all the plugins that are already on the market, right? Yes, for a while. But let's not forget Microsoft's seed fund. And let's not forget the resources that go into developing plugins not only for multiple computer platforms, but multiple browser platforms as well. Microsoft is dominant, so why develop for Netscape, which is a dwindling entity? Sound familiar?

Very soon the same thing will happen on the Mac platform, and the repercussions will be severe. Already Internet Explorer for Windows ships without the Flash plugin. What's going to happen when it ships with no plugins at all? Nobody will be able to view anything without manually downloading software components, and we all know what that means. It means that within five to seven years all multimedia on the Web that uses non-Microsoft technologies will be unreadable.

But don't worry. I'm sure Microsoft will come up with a fix for this. Say, how about its own, crappy version of Flash? And who needs QuickTime when you have Windows Media? And who needs fonts when you have that crappy thing that Microsoft invented to replace them—OpenType, I believe.

Yes, Microsoft will indeed be here to bail us out when everyone else's technologies go away. For a fee, of course.

We've seen monopolies and oligopolies come and go. They've all had lasting, devastating impacts on civilization, from environmental damage to physical and economic danger to consumers to the strangulation of technological initiatives that could otherwise have enriched the lives of all of us. Microsoft is just another in a line of companies that have realized the dream of total domination at the expense of everything. Their practices are damaging to everyone and will undoubtedly lead, in part, to the end of technological innovation in this country.

In short, Microsoft is incompatible with our civilization. Or is it the other way around?

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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.

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