Netscape and a team of independent US lawyers are urging the US government to investigate Microsoft's alleged intentions to block out web surfers from using any other browser except Internet Explorer 4.0.
The allegations come as Microsoft begins delivering beta copies of IE4.0, months before the launch of Memphis - the next version of Windows.
Netscape is complaining that IE4.0 is so tightly linked into Memphis that users will find it difficult to use its Navigator browser, now bundled as part of the company's Communicator suite.
Last week the San Francisco Chronicle, which has obtained a late prototype of IE4.0, reported that the browser will be loaded by default under Memphis and if it is disabled and replaced with Communicator, users will not be able to use any of the shortcuts Microsoft has built into Memphis.
According to the report, four US senators have written to the Federal Trade Commission asking it to investigate Microsoft's plans for IE4.0.
Gary Reback, a US attorney who has been hailed by some as Bill Gates' worst nightmare because he has long been watching Microsoft, said: "Microsoft can control where your eyes go in Internet commerce."
Sam Sethi, marketing manager at Netscape, believes Microsoft is in breach of its Memphis licence. "Microsoft has an agreement with the DoJ (Department of Justice) not to leverage its OS to sell its applications. This is just that." He added: "If they get away with this why don't they just bundle Office and kill off the whole industry?"
Andrew Lees, director of desktops at Microsoft UK, said claims that Memphis would affect shortcuts were "simply not true", hinting that such a protocol would be unacceptable.
Lees accused Netscape of failing to compete with Microsoft on a technological level. "When they had a better browser they charged us with having inferior products, now they have the inferior product they're looking to the government for help," he said.
Netscape is not the first company to complain to the US government about Microsoft's business tactics. In 1995, before the launch of Windows 95, AOL and CompuServe tried unsuccessfully to prevent Microsoft from including the MSN icon in the operating system.
- See Leader, page 22.
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