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AOL's Monster

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 2/8/02 issue of R&R It's amazing to me that America Online has chosen to sue Microsoft over Internet Explorer, especially given the real-life circumstances surrounding IE's ascendancy to the default browser on most machines. Why? Is it because Microsoft exercised their monopoly power and forced us all to use Internet Explorer? Not at all, although that's what AOL (and our government) would like you to believe. The facts are just the opposite, and may be startling: it's all AOL's fault.

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Here's the real skinny: back in 1995, AOL realized that they had to do something about competing with the market leader at the time, Netscape. So, they went to Netscape and asked if they could make Netscape the default browser for the AOL application, melding it into AOL. Netscape's answer to them was "...sure, for $10 per copy."

All the while they were talking to Netscape, they were also talking to Microsoft, and they were working on a different angle: the newly minted Windows 95 operating system was due to come out, and Microsoft wanted to reach AOL's 5 million members. AOL wanted to be on the Microsoft desktop. Microsoft offered Internet Explorer for free. AOL wanted to be in the Online Services folder, and Microsoft agreed. AOL saved $50,000,000, and got a fairly decent browser, plus visibility on every Windows install.

Netscape, on the other hand, didn't really care. They owned the market. Their corporate ego saw Microsoft as a gnat that had inferior software. But then, something started to happen that would change the landscape forever, and show Netscape's greed to be their downfall: AOL began an unprecedented period of growth, and went from 5 million members to now 33 million members, all using Internet Explorer. That, my friends, is the only reason Internet Explorer is the "winner" of the browser "war.". If things had turned out differently, we might all be using Netscape today instead of IE. It tore Netscape up.

Finally, Netscape limped along until they got purchased...by America Online. Get this: AOL now owns the competition, and if Microsoft doesn't treat them well, they could find themselves out in the cold. Imagine what might happen if AOL decided to replace Internet Explorer with Netscape. The numbers in the browser usage tables would almost completely flip flop, and other ISPs would follow suit as developers started to pay more attention to the new market leader. You'd start to ask your webmasters to gear your station or label's sites to Netscape, not IE.

No, it's not Microsoft that is in control of this market; it is clearly America Online. And for them to be suing anyone and charging monopoly control is to rewrite history.

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