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We're just 'browsing'

October 22, 1998

Tim RowlandThis can't be right, can it? The government is suing Microsoft for interfering in the value of something you can get for free in a market full of competitors with nothing to sell who are arguing over the right to distribute a product that you can't see.

Very smart.

I mean, have you ever seen, touched, felt or tasted a browser? Have you ever walked into a computer store and said to the man: "I'd like a half dozen browsers in green, gift wrapped and shipped to Minneapolis?"

If this were retail, companies like Nordstrom, Hecht's and Wal-Mart would be arguing over who has the right to tell the shoppers it's OK to come in and look around.

In computers though, it's the thought that counts. There isn't anything else, save for a screen, a box and a keyboard. Companies that deal in the theoretical like Microsoft and Netscape would never make it in Washington County, because they don't have anything you could put in a warehouse.

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It's like the TRW company that does all the fancy advertising with the woman's voice-over "At TRW we don't make the products you buy, we make the, well you know, things that whatever."

Computer technology is a lot like that.

"This software will give you the capability to fly."

"Wow, you mean if I buy this software I will be able to fly?"

"No, but once it is possible to fly, this will give you the capability."

Of course, it's not enough to have all these things that aren't available just floating around out there in space without a vehicle to view them through, and that's where the "browser" comes in.

(Here I am emulating the trade journalists writing about the Microsoft suit who are forced to dumb-down their writing so any mainstream reader can understand complicated, computer technology.

They can do this in two ways. One, they can actually explain the technology, which is a hassle, or they can put the technology in quotation marks and hope for the best.)

The "browser" allows the computer savvy individual to "search" the Internet for the "sites" she is interested in, or the material she might wish to "download."

The Netscape company has a "browser" that it does not charge for. This caused the Microsoft company to introduce a "browser" that it doesn't charge for either.

The government thought this was fishy so it interrogated Microsoft:

Government: "How much is this "browser."

Microsoft: "It's free."

Government: "Too much."

Microsoft: "Make us an offer."

The government offered to take Microsoft and its genius Bill Gates to court. In other words, the government is out to prove that Bill Gates is a businessman.

I would feel a whole lot better if it were someone other than the government doing the legal smacking.

And to do the smacking under the creaky old federal anti-trust laws? We're defining the parameters of the modern whiz-bang electronic information age under the same regulations used to determine which branch of the Vanderbilt family could haul the most slabs of side meat from Des Moines on the old Union Standard.

But happily the big winner in all this will ultimately be, not the lawyers who will soak up about 14 years worth of technological R&D money, but the consumer.

And if you believe that, I have a "browser" I'd like to sell you.

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