November 20, 1997 7:05 PM PST

Free MSN site snubs Navigator

Paramount's highly popular Star Trek Web site is quietly moving from behind the firewall of the Microsoft Network to the Web, but the best content is still available only through the Internet Explorer browser, irking some users.

The move is the latest example of fee-based MSN's migration to the Web, where it is providing more free content.

But the IE-only angle also rekindles a mounting concern expressed by some Netizens and even lawmakers: that Microsoft is wielding too much clout in the delivery of information online. They worry that it may allow the company to become a "gatekeeper" in this market, particularly as the company moves toward integrating the software browser into its Windows operating system. Microsoft also wants to be at the apex of PC-TV convergence.

This deal with Paramount, whose parent is media giant Viacom, comes on the heels of similar IE-only entertainment deals involving the Walt Disney Company and Time Warner. (See related story)

"It's scary," said Wesley Bright, a Star Trek fan from Florida who accesses the site with Netscape's Navigator browser. "What if one television station took over?"

He added, "I like Netscape 4.0, and I don't want two browsers on my system. It's going to run Netscape out of business."

Microsoft counters that its partners are merely taking advantage of the technological features of IE 4--which include a new range of animation, sound, and interaction--to provide the best entertainment experience. (The site is also accessible with IE 3.02 or later.) It also adds that much of the content still is accessible through any other Web browser, and that exclusive content deals are common throughout the industry. Netscape remains the dominant browser, but IE is gaining ground.

In the case of the Star Trek Web site, Netscape users who type in "startrek.com" are sent to a Web address dubbed "startrek.msn.com/gatekeeper.asp?reason=incompatible browser."

Earlier today, it read: "For the ultimate STAR TREK: CONTINUUM browsing experience, you must be running Microsoft Windows 95, Internet Explorer 3.02 or later, and have ActiveX controls and ActiveX scripting enabled. If you are using another Web browser, please enjoy the Star Trek information available to you below," which included some content about upcoming shows, information about Star Trek, and a bulletin board.

Later today, the message seemed to carry a softer tone: "STAR TREK: CONTINUUM is now on the Web! Available now for Windows 95 and Internet Explorer!" This time, it didn't call attention to those using "another Web browser." Microsoft confirmed the revisions, which it said were likely a result of "polishing the mirrors" on the site.

Either way, IE users are treated to much more on the site, including an insider's look at the Star Fleet headquarters, complete with ActiveX control "surround video," and the PADD (personal access display device), which provides navigation, search, and direct access to favorite sites. A full-site map also is provided. Visitors are invited to download the IE browser from an icon on the site.

Paramount executives were not available for comment. But a source close to Paramount speculated that the reason for the arrangement was that Microsoft technology was used to build the site. An announcement of Star Trek's migration to the Web is not expected until year's end, the source added.

Ed Graczyk, lead product manager for MSN, said users should welcome the switch. "We came from a site available to MSN [subscribers] only to all of those who have IE 3 [or later]. As opposed to limiting functionality of the site to the lowest common denominator across browsers, we're able to focus on a large chunk of the Internet audience and deliver capabilities we couldn't otherwise."

He conceded "there is limited functionality" with Navigator now, but added, "It's not out of the realm that we'd want to add it in the future."

 

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