AOL-Netscape deal: The death of open standards?

The director of a consumer advocacy group Tuesday slammed America Online Inc.'s $4.

The director of a consumer advocacy group Tuesday slammed America Online Inc.'s $4.2 billion deal to purchase Netscape Communications Corp., warning it could effectively mean the end of the open standards on which the Internet was founded.

Jamie Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology -- the group created by consumer advocate Ralph Nader in 1995 -- responded to the deal Tuesday, accusing AOL of habitually resisting basic Internet standards.

America Online, an online service based on proprietary technology, offers its users a gateway to the Internet, but most of its features-- including file downloads, e-mail and messaging technologies such as chat rooms -- are available only through the AOL software. "On AOL, they have content you can only get to if you're an AOL subscriber. They use non-standard e-mail protocols," Love said in an interview with ZDNN. "The Internet is about open standards... so that you can use different software tools to access different types of data. AOL is trying to do the opposite."

Love fears the Web may be seeing the start of a trend away from open standards online. Microsoft, which owns the only major Internet browser besides Netscape's, is hostile to open standards as well, Love said. "If all browsers are owned by Microsoft and America Online, I don't think this is a good situation," he said.

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates pointed to the massive AOL/Netscape deal as evidence that his company does not have a monopolistic grip on the evolving industry, but Love believes otherwise. He said it would be possible for Microsoft to leverage existing business arrangements with AOL to influence the development of the Netscape browser. That could be bad news for those who use Netscape Navigator on non-Windows platforms such as Linux, Love argued.

"When it suits them, AOL has been supportive of Microsoft," he said. "Choosing the Microsoft browser for AOL was a huge negative thing for Netscape ... but they did it in a minute when they thought they could get their icon on the [Microsoft Windows] desktop. They were just acting like a business trying to make a buck."

Love suggested Internet service providers might also be out of luck. ISPs -- which depend on open standards and compete with the proprietary services of Microsoft and AOL -- will be relying on software supplied by their direct competitors, he said.

Take me to the AOL/Netscape page.

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