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Netscape is no escape from AOL

December 01, 1998

I had a lot of things to be thankful for last week, chief among them being that I was finally able to send my America Onhold account to that big browser in the sky.

AOL may be one of the crummiest enterprises since the U.S. automobile industry in the '70s. Busy signals, frequent disconnections, a browser with the firepower of a pea shooter, unwanted sales pitches, slow speeds, routine logjams - I could go on.

And I was prepared to go on at length when I made The Call last week to cancel. But when the woman asked why I was closing my account, all I could bring myself to say was "I'm leaving the country." After a year and half of frustration, I simply didn't want to deal with them for another second.

But gosh it felt good.

As the cyberbrains know, when it comes to computers I seldom know what I am talking about. I get mail that says "You know, it was really Microsoft that made its browser free, thereby forcing other browsers to follow suit, which proves Bill Gates was trying to drive Netscape out of business..." At least the kind ones, who still believe I can be educated. Most just quietly shake their heads and go on to the Hints from Heloise section.

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But with AOL, I think I'm onto something. Since signing up with another company about a month ago I have received no busy signals, no disconnects, no truckloads of unwanted ads.

My only disappointment was in losing my old screen name. "Mistertim" was already taken by someone on the Earthlink network, so I settled on "stjust."

St. Just, pronounced san-zhoo, I think, was a figure in the French Revolution who preached virtue, and if your idea of virtue didn't precisely dovetail with his, he had your head chopped off. (Bill Bennett could learn from him; best sellers are no substitute for cold steel.)

But basically I'm all fat and happy over my new setup until I wake up one morning and hear on the NPR morning zoo that AOL is buying Netscape!

What is this, a plot? I have to choose between Microsoft/Explorer and AOL/Netscape? Hitching Netscape to AOL is like pulling a Bayliner with a mule. I think this is what it might take to actually drive me into the Bill Gates camp - because at least Microsoft works.

I heard that among the wonders we can all look forward to with the AOL-Netscape alliance is, get ready, the opportunity to purchase more products.

Talk about an opportunity I can do without.

There are some things that it makes sense to buy over the Internet: (stocks, plane tickets, books, pornography) and some things it doesn't (cantaloupes, false teeth, mufflers, prostitutes) and never the twain shall meet.

And the last thing we need on the Web is increased advertising. In my book, the Internet should remain strictly as a sanctuary for inaccurate information - if I want to see advertising I'll watch Monday Night Football.

I hope the Justice Department looks at this reeeaal close. My conspiracy theory is that Bill Gates is behind it all - he's implanted AOL into Netscape in much the same way a scientist would implant a cancer cell into a healthy mouse. Now all he has to do is sit and watch the disease spread.

The one glimmer of hope here is that the AOL-Microsoft tigers will chase each other around the tree until they melt into harmless butter - making way for a new wave of competitors - and completely disemboweling each other in an orgy of bleeding circuitry and death.

St. Just would have liked it that way.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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