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MS - Unfair advantage?

Joel said:

(Some people think it is entirely Microsoft's anticompetitive practices that got them 90% market share in the browser market. I just don't buy that. People used IE instead of Netscape 4.0 over the last four years because they liked it better, not because they were tricked into it or because it was installed on their desktop by default. Give people some credit.)

I've seen him say this at least one other time. I know Joel isn't a MS zealot, and I know he isn't stupid. But the alleged anti-competitive behavior covered a lot more than pre-install of IE.

I think the most significant was MS's decision to give IE away for free. MS could do this, they had cash and other products.  Netscape could not. MS used its might.  Now would Netscape have self-destructed anyway? Probably. But they should have had that option and not been undercut.

What was the first instance with Microsoft anyway? I remember being irritated by the contrived incompatabilities with DR-DOS.

Anyway, Joel, could you not reduce the MS anti-competitive thing to the pre-install of IE? We all know it was more complex than that. Thanks.

Paul Vincent Craven
Tuesday, October 22, 2002

I didn't see his comment regarding IE as a summary of the anti-trust case. He just commented that some people think that IE won the browser war because of anti-competitive practices, and he doesn't agree with that.

Tim Sullivan
Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Aw come on, Netscape said from day one that they were going to give away the browser in order to sell the server software. They were surprised when the big companies were willing to pay for the browser.

In fact if they had kept charging for the browser, the big companies would have kept paying, because they like the support and that's the way their weird minds work.

Joel Spolsky
Tuesday, October 22, 2002

<I think the most significant was MS's decision to give IE away for free. MS could do this, they had cash and other products.  Netscape could not. MS used its might.  Now would Netscape have self-destructed anyway? Probably. But they should have had that option and not been undercut.>

I'm not clear on this - are you saying that MS should not have been allowed to give IE away in order that Netscape could survive?  So, if Coke suddenly decided to permanently stop charging for their soft drinks, they should be prevented from doing this, even though it benefits consumers, because it would hurt RC Cola?  I'm not sure I see the logic of it.

Chris Dunford
Tuesday, October 22, 2002

"I'm not clear on this - are you saying that MS should not have been allowed to give IE away in order that Netscape could survive?  So, if Coke suddenly decided to..."

Bad analogy.  Chris, you know as well as I do that the Coca Cola company would never be able to permanently stop charging customers for their number one selling brand of soda.

Charles Kiley
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

"I think the most significant was MS's decision to give IE away for free. MS could do this, they had cash and other products.  Netscape could not. MS used its might.  Now would Netscape have self-destructed anyway? Probably. But they should have had that option and not been undercut."

I'm sorry Paul but that sounds like you were not around at the time this browser war started and got your history from slashdot.

At the time IE 3 (the first even halfway credible IE) was launched, i worked for a large university which was all netscape.

We switched to IE not because IE was free because netscape was free too at the time, and not even because it looked like netscape were going to charge us, but because netscape didn't know from one week to the next what they were doing.

If they had actually said "Yes, we'll charge you $5 a seat" we'd have probably stuck with them despite IE being free because we would have been able to budget for it and forget about it, and the cost would be less than the retraining to take people from netscape to IE.

But Netscape apparently didn't know from one week to a next what they were doing. Were we supposed to trust them? Do business with them? I don't think so. Microsofts browser was worse at that time but at least they knew what to charge us for using it!

Robert Moir
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Besides, that would really be illegal. At least in Europe. It would be called dumping, which is selling substantially below cost price. And dumping is illegal in Europe.

Erik
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Sorry, Robert got in the way :-)

My reply was to Charles.

Erik
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

IE is free in Europe, yet there's been no mention of the EU taking action against Microsoft for dumping.

John Topley
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Sorry Erik, I think you were talking about brown fizzy water.

John Topley
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

"IE is free in Europe, yet there's been no mention of the EU taking action against Microsoft for dumping."

Not quite true. There are indeed actions pending, but IE is not free. It is part of the OS you buy. Updates are indeed free.

Erik
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

"Sorry Erik, I think you were talking about brown fizzy water."

??? Sorry, but I don't know what you mean. I did indeed comment on MS and IE, not on coke being free.

Erik
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Never mind that.

Giving away coke would be dumping and illegal.

And you are right, if MS was really giving away IE, that would be dumping too, and it would be illegal.

But as I said, legally, you cannot have IE without buying the OS. So it is not free. But that is legally...

Erik
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

You know Microsoft gives away Solitare for free with its OS, maybe we should go after them for trying to corner the  PC game market? 
Microsoft knows that the bread and butter of the internet is not which browser you use, but what those browsers connect to.  Netscape knew that also and that is why their original plan was to give the browser away and sell the server software.  The key here is that Microsoft is a diverse company that does not rely on one product being all of their sales.  Internet Explorer is nothing to Microsoft and that is why they give it away. 

Matt Watson
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

My simple response to this is that Netscape GPF'd when trying to print to a HP LaserJet running with Novell Netware 3.1x on Windows 95 & Windows NT4. All common kit all running with default drivers et al. It never worked right.
I kept on trying through various versions as I liked their "turn off and pictures" button on the toolbar, but in the end I gave up.
They never seemed to fix the bugs, I'm tempted to perhaps try mozilla again but I'm not sure I can be bothered.

Peter Ibbotson
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Remember, dumping is illegal because it hurts the consumer. The laws against dumping aren't there to prop up companies that can't compete in an open market. Don't get confused there.

Just because users chose to use IE over Netscape doesn't make MS guilty of dumping. If you're still weeping over Netscape's demise, I'd be looking at the reasons why Netscape continually put out such a sub-par browser.

Mark Hoffman
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

A vast majority of users never chose IE over Netscape.  IE came with their machines and that's what they used.  The average computer user will not spend hours downloading a different browser over a dial-up connection when the one that came with their machine is sufficient.  I've worked with enough users to know that it just doesn't happen.

IE certainly became the better browser IMO, but it didn't matter.  Microsoft and Netscape could have traded browser code and the market share wouldn't have changed (and MS still would have eventually ended up with the better browser).

Brian
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

i was a die hard netscape fanatic until version 4.x.  that's when the browser got so huge it wasn't even funny.  i couldn't stand communicator.  i switched to IE 5.0 grudgingly, and have been very satisfied.  i even tried to go back to NN 6.0, but gave up after an hour of fiddling with it.  IE was just too good.

i was not swayed by the fact that IE came with windows, i used to use it to get NN.  to assume that's why IE prevailed is just silly, and is really a slap in the face to those of us that made a conscious decision to switch to IE.

nathan
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

"i was not swayed by the fact that IE came with windows, i used to use it to get NN. to assume that's why IE prevailed is just silly, and is really a slap in the face to those of us that made a conscious decision to switch to IE."

That you used to get it does not prove a thing. Or if anything, it proves that you are unlike other people who simply use what is on there computer. That is not an insult to either party. You obviously have different needs. No doubt you have some sort of involvement with technology. Many people have not, and they are either not aware of the many things you take for granted, or they could not care less.

And, your conscious descision to switch to IE, are you sure that's why it prevaled. Would that not be a bit presumptious. Or at least unlikely?
People generally use technology to get things done. It's only when they can't that they go look for alternatives. Only us, early adopters use  technology for technology's sake.
Both groups are very different and motivations of one cannot be projected on the other.

Erik
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Just in case, many assume that the original reader did read the following article, if not..it is a good read, and will a lot of insight as why many see the NetScape thing in a different light...:

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000069.html


Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
kallal@msn.com

Albert D. Kallal
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

One of Joel's classics, but it still doesn't matter.  Netscape could have produced the perfect browser: bug free, fast, user friendly, etc., and IE still would have won market share by a landslide.

Here's the way I see it.  The perceived functionality of a web browser to the average user is quite simple: it displays web pages.  Once that functionality is adequately served by the default offering (IE), there is no reason to be bothered by anything else, even if it is superior in some ways.  Take for example the Windows calculator program.  There may be some better alternatives (I wouldn't know because I've never looked) but it serves it's purpose adequately well and therefore people use it and rarely bother with alternatives.

Brian
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

I started with Netscape 2 in Spain in Jan 1997. I used it because the ISP (the Spanish telephone company) sent it on CD. In fact by the time their engineers had configured the modem to work Netscape 3 had come out.

Then my bank proceeded to indulge in a bit of dumping by offering all its customers free internet access (all banks in Spain started doing that, and then proceeded to call in the loans on the ISP's they had just put out of business!). They sent me IE3 as the browser on the CD so I switched over. Eventually I got round to asking them to send me the configuration settings to use Netscape as well, but the truth is that most people would not have bothered.

Joel's point is that Netscape's demise was greatly helped by crazy decisions by the company. One of the idiocies was not allowing it for modular use (thus ensuring that all developers and content distributers, (and ISP's that wanted to brand their browser with the Internet Explorer Annoyance Kit) worked with IE , and not competing with IE5 was another. I didn't switch over to IE permanently until IE5 came out, as the quality battle was neck and neck until then, but it took Netscape nearly four years to come out with something to equal IE5 beta (still working on my brothers computer).

Incidentally I am now seriously thinking of changing the default browser to Netscape 7.0 The fact that there are so many sites with unreadable print that the IE view setting cannot change is one reason, and the tabbed browsing idea is a second (and stunning idea). Google as a default search engine is cool too.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Back to dumping - Is it reasonable to sue a software company for dumping?  Playing Devil's Advocate, one could argue that the economics of the industry make it nonsensical.  Once the code is written, software is infinitely reproduceable.  Any money that was spent was used to create the source for the product.  The marginal cost of creating the actual application is zero.  And you could cover the distribution cost (say, a website) with advertising.
Does anyone want to take the other side?

Brian
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

The IE view setting can't change the font size for those sites because they're using absolute font sizes in their CSS, so strictly speaking it's the site's fault. Netscape/Mozilla choose to handle it differently from Microsoft.

I agree, the tabbed browsing is cool and so is the popup blocking.

John Topley
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

You can always override a site's font settings in IE by checking the appropriate boxes in the Accessibility options in the General tab of the Internet Options menu choice.  I didn't say it was easy though!

Brian
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Erik - my point was that i was not an early adopter, i clung to netscape until the experience was so painful that i finally had to switch to maintain my sanity.

that and i was doing some XML stuff at work that wasn't supported in 4.x browsers.  microsoft ended up building the better product.  that's why i switched. 

now i guess i'll concede the point that maybe i was in the minority, and most of the people "switched" because that's what happened to be on their desktop when they pulled their computer out of the box.  but i believe that IE 5+ was/is better than netscape 4.x, and 6.x, regardless.

nathan
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Erik,

Imo, Microsoft's Internet browser isn't an example of dumping.

If you are looking for a possible example of dumping that involves the Microsoft corporation then try Microsoft Office.

In the mid 1990s, Microsoft was accused of dumping their suite package in order to gain market share. 

Some anecdotal evidence
In late 1994, I took my mother software shopping and I remember the price of Microsoft Office at Best Buy was more than a $100 lower (I don't remember the exact figure) than any of its competitors.  I asked the sales guy why this was so and he told me his opinion.  Note: at the time -- Word, Excel, Office, etc. did not have a dominant share of the market in their respective categories, however, by 1996 they did.

Charles Kiley
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

>>>>>>>>>>
Incidentally I am now seriously thinking of changing the default browser to Netscape 7.0 The fact that there are so many sites with unreadable print that the IE view setting cannot change is one reason, and the tabbed browsing idea is a second (and stunning idea). Google as a default search engine is cool too.
>>>>>>>>>>

Actually you should try Pheonix (a Mozilla derivative).  It's just the browser (Mozilla includes the mail and chat clients, etc).  Go to mozilla.org.

I have been using IE for awhile (there was just no reason to get Netscape 4.7 or Netscape 6 when it came out -- IE does the job well).  But these pop-up (pop-under) ads are just a pain in the ass.  I finally got to the breaking point and so I decided to try Phoenix (because I knew that it had an integrated pop-up blocker).  I love it.  I love that I don't have these pop-ups anymore and I love the tabbed browsing (looooove it!)

So, what it all boils down to is this:  when I was just using the browser to view web pages...there was no need to search out a new browser because IE came with the OS and it did the job.  But once the pop-ups started to become annoying...I downloaded Phoenix because it has features that IE doesn't (pop-up blocker).  And now I have discovered a feature I can't do without (tabbed browsing).

William C
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

What MS does with IE is bundling, not dumping.

Bundling is considered legal unless you are bundling a new feature in a product that already has a virtual monopoly or dominant market share in order to exert leverage into the market for the bundled feature.

Lets say Xerox has the monopoly on photocopying machines; now if it insists you can't buy a photocopying machine without having a "free" word processor as well, or insists on a minimum order for paper before it will sell or lease you a machine then it falls foul of anti-trust legisaltion in most countries.

And let us not forget that the findings of fact in the DOJ case are firm; it is simply the remedies that have not yet been decided.

The problem is that the stakes are high enough for MS to break the law, incur massive fines, and still make a huge profit.

Nearly all non-corporate machines are sold with Windows pre-installed. Have you never wondered why you never find one with Linux pre-installed on a separate partition? Restrictive licensing practises by MS, which give large discounts to manufacturers who don't install other OS's (indeed they even used to insist that there could only be one partition, so that Windows pre-installed with My Documents and Application Data on the D drive was forbidden; and even more ridiculous, you had to have your restore files on the C: drive, which of course was the very drive that would be wiped clean by a virus.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

If making IE free is dumping, why aren't Adobe (for Acrobat reader) and Red Hat Linux and other big Linux distros also "Dumping"?

I think the idea of "dumping" software platforms is a little absurd.

Robert Moir
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

A few years ago, I used Netscape faithfully at work (in a non-technical job at the time). Netscape email was particularly critical to my job, and I was constantly frustrated by Netscape crashing at least once a day. So I downloaded IE. And have been using it ever since.

Of course, just because I was willing to download doesn't mean that anyone else would be equally willing. I'm aware that my own experience doesn't prove anything.

On the other hand, though, I really do think that people in general _are_ willing to download large applications rather than use the default ones pre-installed on their computers. I just checked download.com and got the following info: WinAmp (v 2.81) has been downloaded by 21,631,770 people. The RealOne player (v 2.0) has been downloaded by 849,689 people. Windows Media Player (v 7.1) has been downloaded 6,674,551 times.

Even the people who downloaded WMP obviously decided that it would be better to download nearly 10 MB than to use the media player currently installed on their system (and nearly every computer has a pre-installed media player of some sort).

The idea that Netscape failed because people wouldn't download it is preposterous, not because I have a personal story contrary to the idea but because millions of people are out there downloading huge programs over tiny 56K connections ALL THE TIME.

Benji Smith
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Nathan

"that and i was doing some XML stuff at work that wasn't supported in 4.x browsers. microsoft ended up building the better product. that's why i switched."

Oke, not an early adopter by your definition. But you are definitely a consumer for this kind of product. You seem to be a specialist for whom a more powerful tool usually outweighs ease of use (or in this case, ease of acquiring).

"... but i believe that IE 5+ was/is better than netscape 4.x, and 6.x, regardless."

No doubt. As was Joel's point, Netscape managed to shoot itself in the foot quite acurately. So MS would have won this battle regardless of other tactics.

Erik
Thursday, October 24, 2002

"Erik,

Imo, Microsoft's Internet browser isn't an example of dumping."

I know, I already said it wasn't. At least not legally, because you buy it as part of the OS. Only the updates are free. You might argue that those who do not buy the OS can still get the browser for free. But I am sure there is something in the license that says you are then in violation. Besides, if you haven't bought the OS, but are using it anyhow, you are already in violation for other reasons.

Erik
Thursday, October 24, 2002

Benji wrote:

"The idea that Netscape failed because people wouldn't download it is preposterous, not because I have a personal story contrary to the idea but because millions of people are out there downloading huge programs over tiny 56K connections ALL THE TIME."

My father has a computer. So do my in laws, some aunts and uncles, in fact, almost everyone I know who is younger than 70.
Many of them use it simply for some mild communication (e-mail), some book keeping, or financial transactions.
None of them are interested in the mechanics of a computer. Most of them have a blinking timer on their VCR.
These people don't even understand why you should have to download anything if you already have it. Not because their dumb, mind you, but because it does not fit their view on the world. They have been using tools all of their lives. They never had to go out and get a new tool, unless the old one was broken.
They buy a new TV if it brakes to the point that repairing it is more expensive than buying a new one. Some buy a new care every two years, some only when it grows old.
The point is, they do not care about, or understand the difference between young, immature technology, and mature tools or appliances. And they shouldn't have to.
Who do you think bought cars when they were first invented? Or phonographs? Or TV? It was not the general public. It where the people who had natural curiosity for new technology, or those who had a legitimate need (like when you need a tool to get a job done). These people are interested in the novelties, and accept the inconvenience of immaturity, such as lack of ease of use, or high maintenance.

Erik
Thursday, October 24, 2002

The following is the actual definition of 'dumping', from 'Lectric Law Library.

"DUMPING - Generally is the selling of goods in the U.S. market at prices lower than the prices at which comparable goods are sold in the domestic market of the exporter. These sales must cause or threaten material injury to a competing U.S. industry. "

David Clayworth
Thursday, October 24, 2002

There are a lot of instances of MS using their might to their advantage.  My intent on the posting was to signify that it was more than packaging IE with the OS.  Joel seems to always reduce the anti-trust issues to that one point.

The massive discounts for computer retailers to include Windows with a computer was another example. I disliked that I was forced to buy Windows if I bought a computer.

And as for the guy who thought I got my history from Slashdot, not quite. If I was that young, I wouldn't have remembered the DR-DOS days would I? I used the internet before those fancy in-line pictures or tables.  I remember when you had to hit ctrl-shift-n or whatever it was to follow a link.

How about when amber screens were cool? Or that neat 'luggable' from IBM. That was first pseudo-laptop.

Anyone remember BeagleBrothers and their 2 liners?

Paul Vincent Craven
Thursday, October 24, 2002

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