If you had any doubts that Microsoft won the browser wars, we present Exhibit A, Microsoft's new $750 million settlement with Netscape parent company AOL Time Warner. Put simply, Microsoft will pay cash-strapped AOL $750 million to drop its antitrust lawsuit against the software giant, while promising to provide AOL with early access to upcoming Windows versions. What Microsoft gets in return is staggering. First, AOL will use Internet Explorer (IE), not its own Netscape/Mozilla technology, as the royalty-free basis for its online software for at least seven more years. Second, AOL and Microsoft will work to (finally) integrate their currently incompatible instant messaging products, though no timetable was set. Third, AOL will license Microsoft's Windows Digital Media formats and Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology for securely delivering audio and video technology over the Internet through the AOL online service. If you're wondering where this leaves employees of the former Netscape, you're not alone: Until recently, AOL had been talking up using Netscape technology in a variety of client software types. These plans now appear to be as dead as Netscape's market share.
Microsoft drops the ball with Internet Explorer
If there are truly people still working on IE these days, they should be ashamed of themselves: As I noted yesterday, the product hasn't been demonstrably improved, from an end user application perspective, since 1998. However, reader Terje Sten Bjerkseth (and subsequently, several others) sent me a link yesterday (URL below) that presents Microsoft's take on the future of IE, and the news just went from bad to worse. When asked in a recent online chat about the next version of IE, Brian Countryman, an IE Program Manager, said, "As part of the OS, IE will continue to evolve, but there will be no future standalone installations. IE6 SP1 is the final standalone installation." The reason? "Legacy OSes have reached their zenith with the addition of IE 6 SP1," he said. "Further improvements to IE will require enhancements to the underlying OS." Sadly, this perspective is skewed, and suggests Microsoft believes IE is somehow at the "zenith" of the Web browser heap. But as I also mentioned yesterday, IE lacks basic yet important features, especially automatic pop-up ad removal, that virtually all the competition has, and adding any of these features wouldn't require changes to the base OS. So here's the problem, in my opinion: Microsoft believes that the browser is functionally complete, and can only be improved by adding eye candy that's made possible by the underlying platform (Longhorn, in this case). That's baloney, and as several people mentioned via email, suggests IE development is only important when it can be used to steal market share from other browsers.
Microsoft revamps security group
Microsoft has restructured its Security Business Unit to include a new group whose sole responsibility will be establishing and regulating guidelines for the way in which the company creates software code. This new Security Engineering Strategy team will create formal standards in-house at the software giant for software development processes, and new development tools that will be used by all of the company's programmers. Ultimately, the goal is for Microsoft to create more secure software, and I think that's something we can all rally around. In a funny way, Microsoft may one day go from being one of the most reviled software coding houses on the planet to being a model of software trustworthiness, a metamorphosis that, if completed, will likely be studied and emulated by other companies. We may laugh at the software giant now (and frankly, we should be laughing at ourselves if that's the case, since we're the ones using their products), but I don't think its competitors will be laughing a few years from now when Microsoft is the only company that's done all this great work to revamp its coding practices for security.
New security vulnerabilities dog IIS, Windows Media Services
And speaking of Microsoft's security problems, the company this week issued two major security alerts affecting Internet Information Services (IIS) and Windows Media Services, respectively. The IIS alert is particularly classic, in that it fixes four separate vulnerabilities to Microsoft's Web server software (the fixes affect IIS versions 4.0, 5.0, and 5.1, but not 6.0, the version included in Windows Server 2003). The Windows Media Services bulletin addresses just a single vulnerability, though its one that could result in Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. In related news, Microsoft this week also withdrew a security patch for Windows XP because it some users reported that they could no longer connect to the Internet after the patch was installed. Round and round we go...
DOJ declines invitation to Microsoft antitrust trial, round two
A representative for the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said this week that the agency would not participate in the continuing legal fight against everybody's favorite convicted monopolist, Microsoft, a move that could possibly strengthen the appeal made by Massachusetts and West Virginia. Previously, the DOJ had said that it would aggressively defend its settlement with Microsoft, but now it apparently wants nothing to do with the case. Consider the possible embarrassment: After handing Microsoft the most lopsided legal defeat in antitrust history, the DOJ basically handed the case over to the software giant, dropped any possibility of a damaging breakup, and provided the company with the weakest possible settlement ever crafted. You know, in some ways, it's really not surprising that the DOJ won't be there. After all, we're supposed to be criticizing Microsoft at its antitrust trial, not the DOJ.
Windows Server 2003 is not a workstation
I shouldn't have to even say this, but Windows Server 2003 is a server, not a workstation. And yeah, that's all I want to say about it.
Apple limits iTunes
Confronted with the fact that its customers were using a feature of its music software to pirate music over the Internet, Apple this week released an update that prevents Internet-based music sharing and, thus, piracy. Apple iTunes 4.01 allows those unruly and untrustworthy Mac users to share music only over a local network, and the company noted it was "surprised and disappointed" in its users' behavior. Apple was also quick to point out that songs purchased via the iTunes Music Store, which has logged over 3 million digital music downloads, could not be pirated via the now-shuttered sharing feature. Granted, it's only a matter of time before the company's DRM solution is compromised as well.
Munich picks Linux over Windows
This week, the city of Munich announced that it will switch 14,000 government computers from Windows to Linux, a move the city says will it money, even after factoring in the costs of services and maintenance. Oddly enough, during my week-long trip to Germany, the only time I was online for any amount of time was at an Internet café in Munich where I found, to my surprise, a room full of Linux-based terminals. But this shouldn't have been a shock: Fully 15 percent of all computers sold in Western Europe now run Linux, a dramatic difference between that continent and the United States, where Linux remains more myth than reality on the desktop.