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Chase: AOL ships IE so it can hurt MS case

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MS on Trial Despite its takeover of Netscape, AOL decided to continue its deal with Microsoft over Internet Explorer until 2001. But it only did this in order to help the Department of Justice win its antitrust case against Microsoft, says MS VP Brad Chase. Chase's paranoid reasoning is all too characteristic of senior Microsoft execs. As part of its deal with Netscape AOL has a commitment to develop a new generation of browser technology. AOL is the biggest ISP in the world by a long chalk, and so obviously is going to switch to Netscape-based technology, and away from Microsoft IE, in the long run. Up to this point, we're probably all with Chase's logic. But then he goes running off in a different direction. Normal people might reckon that postponing a switch from IE to Navigator makes sense for AOL because it needs to plan the move, and needs to avoid unnecessary disruption for users. A year would seem to make sense as a minimum period for delay, given that AOL also has to be careful in how it digests Netscape. Chase however may be too familiar with Microsoft's use of the Big Red Switch approach to software upgrades and migrations. He figures AOL could boost Netscape's share instantly if it wanted to, and if it doesn't want to, then it must have a more nefarious reason than mere customer care. If it switched to Navigator he figures its 15 million users would take Netscape's market share, which he puts as neck-and-neck with IE at 50 per cent, up to 70 per cent. Microsoft's would go down to 30 per cent, and that would severely hole the DoJ's case. Bizarre? Possibly. And note also how his claim boosts the importance of AOL, and maybe undermines efforts by MS to downplay the significance of its dealings with the company. His numbers are pretty well correct, as AOL does add something in the region of 20 per cent to IE's total market share, but that means that Microsoft's distribution deals must have been rather more important, and browser quality, less so, than Microsoft has been claiming. ® Complete Register trial coverage

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