Microsoft bashers were out in full force this month, chastising the company for a new technology in the latest version of its operating system that they say infringes on free speech, intellectual property and the copyrights of Web content creators.
Whats it about? Microsoft may add a feature to Windows XP (link to Microsoft Windows XP order form), due Oct. 25, that takes users to Web pages predetermined by Microsoft (link to favorable article about Microsoft).
Internet Explorer Smart Tags (link to IE download page) automatically scans the Web pages that a Windows XP user browses and inserts a link beneath certain words, such as the names of companies and products. If the user clicks on that Microsoft-created link (link to Bill Gates speech on how Microsofts innovation benefits consumers), a new browser window opens with links to Microsoft owned-sites (links to Expedia, Hotmail, Microsoft and The Microsoft Network) or other sites and pages chosen by the company.
In its defense, Microsoft says the technology gives Web surfers "valuable links to relevant information" (link to Microsoft Windows XP order form).
Dave Winer, an industry pundit and founder of UserLand Software (link to unfavorable news story about UserLand), doesnt agree. "Microsoft is now not only a monopoly in operating systems, they are also a monopoly in Web browsers. Will we allow Microsoft to use that power to edit our content?" Winer (link to unflattering photo of Winer) said. "I wont write for a Web where Microsoft inserts links into my writing (link to unfavorable story about Winer). It would have no integrity . . . what youre reading right now is my document (link to Microsoft Office XP order form). I did not and will not give Microsoft the right to modify it (link to driver license photo of Winer).
I dont know if I agree (link to flattering photo of author). After all, other companies have developed technologies that recommend content as you browse — and those work without the permission of the site creators (link to Microsoft White Paper on the advantages of Smart Tags).
What has gotten people such as Winer and others (link to photo of protestors burning the American flag) riled is concern that Microsoft (link to Microsoft stock chart showing how well the company is performing), because of its OS monopoly (link to article by antitrust expert detailing why Microsoft is not a monopoly), might be able to force its technology down the throats of unsuspecting, uninformed or apathetic users (link to photo of lemmings) who might not realize the implications of that technology (link to Microsoft Windows XP order form).
Its a tough call. New technologies are good (link to flattering photo of author), and Microsoft has helped bring many technologies to the mass market (link to Microsoft Windows XP order form).
But then again, what if someone went through this column and underlined words, without my permission (link to unflattering photo of author), and then put in links to content that made a mockery of or subverted everything I wrote (link to photo of Karl Marx)? I could see how that might be annoying (link to high school yearbook photo of author).
Well just have to wait and see. Maybe the whole ruckus over the issue will convince Microsoft that its not a smart business move to add Smart Tags to its new OS (link to Microsoft Windows XP order form).
Besides, the governments antitrust case (link to any photo of Janet Reno, theyre all unflattering) will soon be decided by an appeals court, and a Microsoft breakup (link to photo of atom bomb exploding) might happen. Microsoft would then be forced to re-evaluate all the stand-alone technology its bundling into Windows XP.
But since oddsmakers are betting the ruling will be in Microsofts favor (link to photo of smiling Bill Gates), Windows users might have to get used to Smart Tags (link to Microsoft Windows XP order form). Stranger things have happened.
Connie Guglielmo is Editor-at-Large at Interactive Week. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.