Post of the Day
July 2, 1999

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Subject: Re: Netscape vs. IE
Author: Goofyhoofy

How is it we're talking about AOL using the Microsoft IE browser instead of the one they just paid a cool Ten Billion for?

Your friendly Americans Online, you know, the two-word company that somehow has three initials bought Netscape a few months back for one simple reason, clearly stated at the time: to get the Netcenter portal, a wildly underutilized Netscape asset. "I didn't realize until too late we were in the portal business," Marc Andreessen said, or perhaps I paraphrased. "How could he miss it?" you must wonder. The same way Bill Gates missed the S.S.Internet. They were both in the "software" sea selling boxes of code to you and me, tra la.

People can't make out anything when they're 10 miles away. They also can't distinguish something when it's an inch in front of their face. AOL was far enough to see, smart enough to know, close enough to act. Enter Steve. Case closed, you should pardon the pun.

AOL didn't need "more eyeballs", it had plenty. This was a strategic step to shoehorn a footprint on an entirely different and important segment of the net. AOL is for "just folks" as the technopseudosnobs ceaselessly point out, as if they needed to. AOL.com, which feeds from the AOL (IE) client default is therefore "just eyeballs", if you'll forgive me for momentarily devaluing regular people so. (I hate to do it, I often think of me as one myself!)

Netscape, by contrast, was largely a business product, with Netcenter business oriented. And certain corporate eyeballs are worth a ton more than yours and mine. Two tons, maybe. Those ocular organs belong to bigger spenders, social influencers, and faster surfers, not to mention daytime-shifted users, handy for adding traffic when the "just folks'" servers are idle. This wasn't about "more", it was about "different.

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Now once upon a time, as the almost fairy tale goes, Netscape was a pretty good business. Then the serial software assassination squad showed up with what a few of us think was a perfectly predatory pricing policy (FREE! Can't get much more pointed than that!) and took away the oxygen, as the Softies so politely put it. That left the only Netscape assets as the wonderful but worthless browser, the server business side, and Netcenter. AOL found SUN to license the enterprise engine for $100M per quarter over three years, thus disposing of the unwanted part of the business for a billion-dot-two. But McNealy wanted another shot at the Seattle Smartasses, and made the new AOL/SUN venture the price of the deal.

(Sidenote: I suggest SOLUNA as the anagrammatically derived AOL/SUN business name, a play off "Luna" and a near phonic rendition of "saloon". "Moon Saloon", probably what a building full of programmers looks and smells like anyway.)

So the alliance might be something or it might be nothing. Those are pretty much the choices, I've determined after careful thought. Time will tell, because she always does, but she's quiet right now. It is nice to know AOL has hundreds, maybe thousands of programmers working on things just in case...don't you think?

(Followup: SOLUNA: maybe a contraction of "solutions" and "NA", for "not acceptable." OK, still working on it. Hey, this is tough. You try it after a couple of pints.)

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There have only been a few things the browser has been good for, not counting, er, browsing. One, to sell to consumers. Two, to feed traffic to a default site such as Netcenter. Three, to serve as a platform for delivery of a new OS base like Java or other gizmos. Four, to market a high compatibility front end with server apps. Five, there ain't no five. One is dead, two was ignored, three is in progress, four is cool but not critical, five, I already told you, there ain't no five.

Maybe one could come back, if Steve Ballmer would admit that a browser is a browser and is not part of Windows, that they needed to kill Netscape because of three, and that they're going to charge separately for a separate piece of software. Maybe there's a chance that Scott McNealy and Bill Gates will go to the senior prom together. Maybe pigs will fly, no disrespect intended to any of the people in this paragraph. Or to the pigs.

So what is in AOL's best interest, at least for now? To scream to the heavens that it's oh-so-simple for people to sign up, and you do that by staying with the current contract. AOL should go hoarse, of course, or even worse, by forcing the source of your OS to paint a bug on the screen of every machine, see what I mean?

You don't do that by throwing out the entry point on every box of Windows so you can use a browser you can't sell anyway. And they already set the IE default to AOL.com, so what's the deal?

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But, and as they say down at the gym, it's a big butt, if the Netscape/SUN alliance comes up with something and needs the browser as a delivery platform, or if they see Microsoft using it to further their polluted Java, or if there is another way to directly monetize it, I think I can go out on a limb and say they'll pull the plug on the IE browser faster than Maria Bartiromo can say "back to you, Martha. You may be cuter but I'm smarter." (Well, I've always wanted to hear her say that.)

I, for one, am much more interested in the potential of ICQ to bleed off eyeballs from other ISPs, fast, slow, big and small, than I am about the browser. Which, come to think of it, could pretty much do the same thing if it were set up right... Let's see... Build in ICQ, add a button or two for sports scores or stock quotes, link to a help site or doctor's office, open an information toolbar, go to the cyber mall, stream a game, open a calendar, fax a screen snapshot, call Mom...

Hmmm.... Wonder what those programmers are working on tonight... Hmmm...

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Hey, I just felt like writing it. If you kept reading it, don't blame me. Free country and all that.