For those PC Week readers who shock easily, are fitted with a pacemaker or don't like nasty surprises we recommend that you don't read this leader article unless you're sitting down with any dangerous implements at a safe distance. Why? Because we're going to be nice (complimentary, even) about Microsoft.
Yes that Microsoft, the one we give a hard time to the other 51 weeks of the year. The Microsoft that we've variously accused of being monopolistic, bullying and technologically inferior. This week we're putting all that behind us, and giving it a rare pat on the back for the work it's done on Internet Explorer 4.0, due out later this summer (see the Analysis on page 16).
If Microsoft is to be believed, it's spent more research and development bucks on IE4 than it has on any other product it's ever released, including the extravagantly R&Ded Windows 95 operating system. With that product, the feeling was "is that the best they can do with all that money?", but with IE4 the cash looks well-spent.
It looks even better spent when you compare the progress Microsoft has made with IE against the relative stagnation of Netscape, with its rival and formerly market-leading Navigator product, over the past year. The consensus is that Navigator is now about two generations behind IE, whose lead is being extended with each new version of the browser.
The heady days of early 1996, when Netscape could do no wrong and Microsoft no right are but a distant memory. With ActiveX and Dynamic HTML, Microsoft has stolen Netscape's technological thunder and rubbed its nose in it by giving IE away free of charge while its lacklustre rival insisted on charging for what was clearly an inferior product.
Whatever users think about Microsoft, they're no mugs and have consequently voted with their feet by taking advantage of Gates' generosity and downloading IE in their millions. Not only are they downloading it, but once they start using IE they soon discover that it beats their (relatively) expensive Navigator browser hands down.
Netscape's problems were merely compounded when it had to abandon plans to bring forward the launch of its next generation Netcaster product and revert to the original timetable, casting it in the role of unreliable upstart rather than cool-headed market leader.
It's debatable whether Microsoft has done everything right or Netscape has got it all horribly wrong - if you were at Microsoft, would you really care?
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