Microsoft and AOL have kissed and made up, patching the differences that stemmed from the hardball tactics that made Internet Explorer king of browser mountain.
The $750 million that the deal will cost Microsoft is a great bargain, considering that it buys the continued use of IE in the AOL client application, wider distribution for its Windows Media technologies, and the potential for interoperability between MSN messenger and AOLs Instant Messenger software.
Also, making nice with AOL Time Warner leaves Microsoft more free to fight the tougher antitrust battles that still lie ahead, such as the one with Sun Microsystems—a firm less inclined to jump so quickly into the sack with Bill Gates and Co.
In any case, $750 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the billions that Microsoft has banked. Unfortunately, that figure probably doesnt register as much more than a drop in the bucket for AOL Time Warner, either, compared to the billions in debt with which its saddled.
Now that Netscape has served the only purpose that AOL probably ever intended it to serve—as a bargaining chip against a Microsoft loathe to see AOL switch its 32 million subscribers to a browser based on the open-source Mozilla project—it probably wont be long before AOL opts to trim costs by pulling funding from the Netscape/Mozilla project.
However, the browser wars are most certainly not over—theyve only begun. Regardless of what AOL does or doesnt do with the ugly stepchild that is the Mozilla-based version of its Netscape browser, Mozillas more vital offshoots will continue to pose a viable threat to the hegemony of Internet Explorer on the Web. The KDE projects Konqueror, and its Apple-crafted cousin, Safari, have also earned themselves a spot at the table, and Operas shown that people are willing to pay for innovation and platform inclusiveness in a proprietary Web browser.
While preparing to write this column, I came across Ted Turners comments in opposition to the media consolidation track onto which the FCC has locked itself. Turner, a majority shareholder in AOL Time Warner, pointed to the risk aversion of companies such as the one with which hed been merged into association.
This made me think of AOLs Nullsoft division, and the way that AOL reacted to Nullsofts Waste, a secure, peer-to-peer file transmission product intended for groups of 50 or fewer that sounds to me like something with a lot of potential for businesses and individuals alike. AOL axed Waste almost immediately after Nullsoft began to distribute it, out of fear of angering the gods of RIAA.
Sure, it wouldve been nice to see AOL inject a dose of diversity into the Web by shifting to Mozillas Gecko rendering engine, but the truth is, AOL never really wanted to ditch Internet Explorer, which is why it never did. AOL isnt a technology company, its a service provider. And although its true that next to its Time-Warner divisions, you can call AOL a “new economy” company, AOLs about as low-tech as you can get.
Theres nothing at all wrong with this, of course, but Mozilla may find itself better off detached from AOL, funded instead by a more diverse group of players thats better matched with the spirit of the project.
Has Microsoft struck the final blow in the browser wars, or has the battle only begun? Id like you hear your take at email@example.com.