Much ado about nothing, you might say. At least that was Judge Thomas Penrose Jackson's reaction to Microsoft's contention that removing Internet Explorer from Windows 95 was "impossible." As Jackson showed in his courtroom, the offending Internet Explorer icon could be removed from the Windows desktop with just a few mouse clicks.
Indeed, the temporary injunction in question (which Jackson upheld against Microsoft in its ongoing antitrust legal struggle with the U.S. Department of Justice) ordered just that -- that Microsoft remove Internet Explorer from Windows desktops so computer manufacturers could sell machines that didn't have IE as a default browser.
Jackson's courtroom demonstration, however, ignored how truly Internet-integrated Windows has become and how much code Internet Explorer shares with Windows, and those things are more significant than whether Explorer appears a default browser. Regardless of what you think about Microsoft's business practices (and it's no secret that I personally believe Microsoft Unbound is stifling competition in the U.S. software industry to the point where soon Microsoft will be the U.S. software industry), it is important to understand that the real issue is how operating systems are being transformed by the Internet. And for Mac users, a big question is how Apple intends to respond with its own Internet-integrated OS.
The technology graveyard
Once upon a time, Apple had an Internet-OS integration strategy. Using OpenDoc as the component-object technology, Apple delivered the Cyberdog Internet component kit (browser, e-mail and so on), which was well on its way to being tied, inextricably, to the Mac OS. One big problem, though, was that although the OpenDoc concept was hot, the implementation plan was stone cold, with partners bailing out right and left.
The other big problem was that by the time the OpenDoc and Cyberdog technologies were starting to gel, Java had already established itself as the Internet-integration technology darling, with the OpenDoc/Java relationship being ill-defined at best.
It's possible, of course, that Apple could have sorted all of this out and used OpenDoc/Cyberdog/Java to provide better Internet integration than the forlorn little "Connect to" applet in the current Mac OS Apple menu. What's more, Apple could have somehow leveraged its OpenDoc/Cyberdog/Java bits to do the same for the upcoming Rhapsody. (Of course, it's easy for me to suggest these things; I'm not the poor, underfunded engineering manager who has to turn marketing promises into product realities.)
That was all possible, but not to be. And now, in these days of limited product development resources at Apple, it seems unlikely that Apple will ever leverage those once-promising Internet technologies, at least not within the current context of Mac OS and Rhapsody.
The seamless future
Of course, Apple's missed opportunities with OpenDoc and Cyberdog don't mean that it should abandon R&D on how it can do a better job of integrating the Internet than Microsoft. I've used Windows 95 SR2 with Internet Explorer 4.0 and the Active Desktop, and I'm currently a beta tester for Windows 98, so I'm quite familiar with Microsoft's approach to Internet integration. Essentially, Microsoft is doing its best to turn the Net into an extended Windows resource.
The problem is, it just doesn't work. It's cumbersome, slow and painful to use. It's much worse than having no Internet access at all. If this is Round One of Microsoft's multiround bout to Microsoftize the Internet, I don't care to stick around for Round Two.
There has to be a better, less-bloated, less-proprietary, more open-access-oriented way to accomplish Internet/OS integration. I think it ought to be Apple that figures it out, implements it and maybe, via Rhapsody, markets it as a clear Apple advantage.
Because when it comes to a vision of Internet integration, Microsoft can't see past its own boundaries.
Don Crabb welcomes nice, thoughtful comments at email@example.com. You can also check out his Web page at http://www.doncrabb.com. Nasty, mean-spirited comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.