July 22, 2003 1:10 PM PDT
BuyMusic site: For your IEs only
BuyMusic, which was launched Tuesday, sells downloads of songs and albums--much like Apple's Macintosh-only iTunes site. While the company makes no bones about the fact that its entire service is based on Microsoft technologies, its exclusion of all but Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser is likely to raise the ire of standards advocates.
Those advocates argue that the existence of Web standards, set chiefly by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), means that any standards-compliant browser should be able to access and use any Web site.
But IE's steady march toward market domination over the last seven years has whittled away at many developers' resolve to code to standards. Many have chosen to code their sites directly to IE, locking out those who use Netscape, Mozilla, Opera, Safari and other alternatives to the market leader.
That trend is likely to accelerate in the wake of an AOL and Microsoft settlement in which AOL opted to license IE for use with its proprietary service for the next seven years. The settlement has led to the layoff of many Netscape developers and the spinoff of Netscape's Mozilla.org open-source browser development group.
Company representatives were not available for comment. AOL, Apple and the W3C did not respond to requests for comment.
Industry analysts called the move toward an IE-only Web an unsurprising manifestation of market forces.
"With IE's market share it's not surprising that many developers will use that as a least-common-denominator platform," Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg said. "It's an issue of market share and developer resources. Like all platforms, developers put resources where the numbers are. In an ideal world (coding to standards) would be great, but the reality is that developers move with the center of gravity, and at the moment that's IE."
Users of Netscape are greeted with the following message when they reach the site: "In order to take full advantage of BuyMusic's offerings you must be on a Windows Operating System using Internet Explorer version 5.0 or higher. Download Internet Explorer Here."
The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on the site goes on to explain that the site uses a Microsoft proprietary technology called ActiveX in order to unlock Digital Rights Management (DRM) controls that aim to prevent unauthorized distribution.
"Your browser must be Internet Explorer," the page reads. "If you browse the site with Netscape you cannot purchase and download music. The reason is that your music files are wrapped in DRM encryption, which is unencrypted by the license that you download when you download the music file. The license download requires and (sic) Active-X control which is only compatible with Internet Explorer. Without it you cannot download your license and your music stays encrypted and unusable."