December 29, 1997 1:35 PM PST

Microsoft aims new content at IE users

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As the new year approaches, Microsoft is jumping onto the Web with more free editorial content, but some of the best material still is available only through later versions of its own browser, Internet Explorer, rather than Netscape's Navigator.

Microsoft reiterates that its content partners are simply making use of the technological features of IE, such as animation and interaction, and that the company is not demanding any exclusive deals. But it still perturbs some Netizens, who worry about the software giant's dominance in the delivery of information online. Lawmakers also have expressed some concern about this issue, and they wonder why it makes sense, since Netscape remains the dominant browser supplier.

Netizens who access the MSN.com Web page nowadays are told: "Check out all the new free shows from MSN on the OnStage and Essentials pages."

But it helps to check it out with an IE browser. Some examples of what NEWS.COM found when surfing with a Netscape 3.0 browser:

  • An invitation to access ET Online, which includes audio, "Webcasts," and news from the entertainment world. Users are told: "ET Online is now available free to Windows 95 users with Internet Explorer 3.0 and above and to members of the Microsoft Network."

  • A link to the Internet Gaming Zone came with this warning: "We are working hard to complete Netscape Navigator support so that it will ship with the next major upgrade to the Zone. In the meantime, if you'd like to join the multiplayer action and excitement of the Zone, we invite you to download Microsoft Internet Explorer for free."

  • Star Trek: Continuum is a popular site for Star Trek fans. As previously reported, users are told: "STAR TREK: CONTINUUM is now on the Web! Available now for Windows 95 and Internet Explorer!"

    In some cases, however, users are told that neither their Microsoft nor Netscape browsers may be suitable. For example, those who access a new recipe site, Mauny's Kitchen, are told: "This site works best with Microsoft IE 3.02 or 4.0 running on Windows 95, OR Netscape Navigator 3.02 or 4.03 running on Windows 95. Your browser does not appear to be one of the above, but if you'd like to enter Mauny's Kitchen anyway, please do. We just can't promise everything will work."

    Although that language is decidedly browser neutral, there comes later a hard sell for IE 4.0: "For the best viewing experience, click HERE to download a free copy of Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0."

    Another new content offering, GetWorking--a community for job seekers that provides career building content for "twenty-somethings"--offers a similar message.

    Most of the free content accessible through Microsoft offers a sales pitch for IE, including an icon that lets users download IE for free.

    "It's more feature-oriented than any overall strategy," said a MSN spokesman in explaining why some content is best viewed through a specific browser. He added that all the Web sites were accessible through either browser; it's just that some of the features within the sites may be for IE only.

    Web sites such as Slate also are accessible through either browser. For now, Slate is free, although Microsoft plans to begin charging for the e-zine during the first quarter of next year. And as Slate editor Michael Kinsley noted in a letter to readers last week, "More than once, in discussions of the browser wars, we have provided links to Netscape Navigator's download page."

    Still, some users remain skeptical. As one Star Trek fan put it: "Star Trek is about openness, and so is the Web." Added another: "These people have no idea how many Netscape users there are out there."

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