In Microsoft's showdown with America Online on messaging, Brad Chase has headed up the company's strategy as one of the executives in charge of the company's consumer and Internet division. For nearly two weeks, Microsoft, among others, has been blocked from letting its online users connect with AOL's instant-messaging system. Since then, the two companies have played a game of leap frog, as Microsoft found an opening into the system before AOL's cyber gate again came crashing down. Last week, Barry Schuler, president of AOL's interactive services division, said in an interview with ZDNN that Microsoft was "confusing and deceiving people." And now Chase has responded to Schuler. He made his comments in an e-mail correspondence with ZDNN's Senior Executive News Editor, Charles Cooper.
ZDNN: Microsoft appears determined to vault each obstacle AOL puts in place. AOL appears determined to lay down another obstacle each time you evade their blockade. How long do you think this war of attrition can last?
Chase: We are not sure. We want to get beyond the cat and mouse game of AOL blocking customers and folks like Microsoft, Yahoo! and Prodigy having to decide whether to respond. Our main goal -- and that of the industry leaders who signed the letter to Steve Case -- is to support industry standards so that all instant messaging clients can talk to each other. In the meantime these same leaders have called on AOL, as a gesture of good faith to customers, to stop blocking non-AOL software. This provides an interim solution for customers. We are waiting to see AOL's response.
ZDNN: Is there room for compromise and if so, what might the scenario look like?
Chase: Sure, compromise is a part of the standards process. We really need to have all instant messaging software be able to talk to one another or we aren't doing the right thing for customers. Imagine if you couldn't send e-mail to anyone you wanted to or could not call anyone you wanted to on the phone. Leaders throughout the industry have been calling for AOL's participation in the standards effort for a very long time, well over a year. We need AOL to genuinely step-up so the compromises can begin.
ZDNN: Have you -- or do you plan -- to contact your opposite number at AOL to try and work out a deal?
Chase: We sent AOL two letters last week, asking them to join with the rest of the industry -- including Microsoft, Yahoo, Excite, Prodigy, Infoseek, Tribal Voice, Activerse and AT&T -- in doing what's right for all consumers and developing an open standard with the IETF. Remember this is not about AOL and Microsoft. It is about a much broader issue of the industry calling on AOL's support of industry standards in this area and their agreement to stop blocking non-AOL clients in the meantime.
ZDNN: If neither AOL nor Microsoft by themselves are able to work out terms for a deal, would you be willing to consider mediation by a third party?
Chase: The best third party to drive a new standard for the Internet is the IETF -- we have been working with them from the beginning and AOL has declined. We hope that they will join with the IETF and commit to moving the IMPP proposal forward to provide interoperability for consumers.
ZDNN: Why did Microsoft engineer its messaging system to disable AOL's instant message when both are installed on the same client?
Chase: This is not true. People can choose which instant messaging service they'd like to use as the default. Setting MSN Messenger as the default will log people into both services. This doesn't mean AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) is disabled -- users can absolutely still use this client.
ZDNN: AOL says it's willing to work out deals with partners. What stands in the way of working out a mutually beneficial agreement -- a la' AOL's accord with Apple on instant messaging?
Chase: As I understand what AOL is doing here, this is not what is best for customers. It would be like AT&T and Sprint doing a deal to allow AT&T customers to ONLY call Sprint customers and no one else. AT&T and Sprint would never do that. The right thing to do for consumers is to work together as an industry with the IETF to quickly develop, finalize and support the IMPP standard. Microsoft and more than 40 companies are already there and welcome AOL. But doing one-off licensing deals doesn't solve the problem.
'Windows is open'
ZDNN: In laying a claim to proprietary technology that it developed, isn't AOL's position similar to Microsoft's refusal to give into critics who want the company to open Windows -- which you developed?
Chase: No. That is wrong. Windows is open. There is more information available about programming for Windows than any operating system in history, I bet. We want to encourage developers to write great applications for Windows. We have also been a leader in working with standards bodies and supporting industry standards, Internet Explorer being a great example of being the first browser to support CSS, HTML, DHTML, etc.
Also remember this is not just Microsoft. Many industry leaders are calling on AOL to do the right thing. Yahoo, Excite, Prodigy, Infoseek, Tribal Voice, Activerse, Microsoft and AT&T all signed the letter and many more companies want to as well.
ZDNN: What do you say to critics who say you are engaging in the highest form of hypocrisy -- that their technology should be open but yours shouldn't-all in the name of commercial expediency?
Chase: I think this is the question people have been asking AOL. We will support industry standards in instant messaging. That is the point. Microsoft and 40 other companies have been driving for a standard for nearly two years, and our product is ready to support it when it's ratified.
ZDNN: This is the second public flare-up between MS and AOL in the last year. AOL considers this latest episode a declaration of war. How would you describe relations between your two companies?
Chase: When you operate in a highly competitive industry like this, there is always some natural tension. Steve Case was quote recently in the New York Times as saying that "Windows is the past and in the future, AOL is the next Microsoft." Microsoft and the rest of the industry would like to work together with AOL to provide the interoperability consumers are demanding. We believe it's in the best interest of consumers for all of us to work together in this effort for standards and open communication.
ZDNN: The IETF's position on the cyber squabble has been akin to 'a plague on both houses.' Their position is that the potential of instant message technology is vastly more important than the parochial interests now clashing. Is the larger public good being served by both Microsoft and AOL sticking to its guns?
Chase: We agree that opening the technology is important. All we and the other industry leaders are doing is encouraging AOL to finally support the IETF effort. This is in everyone's interest except perhaps AOL.