In a week when all talk in the industry is of Microsoft's $150 million (#95.5 million) investment in Apple, comes a report that concludes the software giant is robbing users of their freedom of choice in the browser market.
The report, by US-based Internet consumer watchdog group NetAction, claims the majority of top US Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and on-line content providers offer Microsoft's Internet Explorer as their default browser or bundle it with their sign-up packages. The list includes America Online, MCI and CompuServe. In contrast, only three of the top consumer ISPs - IBM, Netcom and Earthlink - offer Netscape's Navigator in the same way, claims the report.
The research comes less than a month after Netscape urged the US government to investigate claims that Microsoft was planning to make IE 4.0, currently in beta, load as the default browser in Memphis, the next version of Windows. It also comes in the wake of an announcement by the US Federal Trade Commission that it will not launch an anti-trust investigation into Microsoft, as that would only serve to duplicate Department of Justice efforts.
According to US reports, NetAction intends to use its research to put pressure on the US government to further probe Microsoft's business practices.
Any attempt by a company or an individual to limit freedom of choice by manipulating the market would clearly be wrong. Governments worldwide have a duty to investigate allegations of this nature and punish those it finds guilty.
It is worth remembering that Apple Macs once accounted for 12% of all PCs sold worldwide, whereas today they represent just 3.8%, while Microsoft Windows runs on 90% of all new PCs. Some users may feel they have no choice but to choose Windows.
Throughout the late '80s, Microsoft and Apple were at each others throats, a rivalry that manifested itself in a lengthy and costly copyright infringement suit which Apple eventually lost. It was inconceivable that the two would one day become "partners".
But equal partners they are not. Microsoft is fully aware that it needs competitors if it is to avoid the heavy hand of anti-trust investigators.
What could be better than investing in a competitor which is no longer a serious threat to its business. On the surface, it's $150 million investment in Apple might seem like a generous gesture but the deal is not forward-looking. For a start, it doesn't embrace Rhapsody, Apple's next-generation operating system on which the PC maker is pinning much of its future hopes.
Netscape may still be a big name in browsers, but for how much longer? And for how much longer will users feel they have a choice of browser?
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