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MS on Trial With exquisite timing, Zona Research has announced the end of the browser wars. Microsoft won, and a dead-pan Zona says there's no need to carry on chasing market share stats. But being declared the victor is hardly going to be an unalloyed pleasure for Microsoft. The company took flak for many things in Judge Jackson's findings of fact on Friday, but the section on Microsoft's campaigns against Netscape is particularly long and comprehensive. The good judge is of the opinion that Microsoft set out to hunt Netscape out of the browser market, and systematically eliminated it from distribution channels. So when Zona says Microsoft's IE chalked up a 64 per cent score as the primary browser of choice in October, against 36 per cent for Navigator, you can't help sub-consciously adding "and that's because..." Zona says that corporate browser policy has been an important factor in narrowing the market from nine browsers four years ago to two now. Today 73 per cent of companies have policies, with 69 per cent of them specifying IE and 31 per cent Navigator. At this point it's worth reprising Zona's report from a year ago. Then there was a clear difference between individual users, 60 per cent of whom preferred Netscape, and corporates - 54 per cent of those with a policy specified IE. Netscape's share of user hearts and minds was then up on the previous month. Today, Zona says: "We are witnessing a shift away from the importance of the browser technology to the content on the Internet. It is not surprising that the two dominant browser vendors now play a significant role in the burgeoning content marketplace. The question is how will the content war play itself out?" That is, the browser has become irrelevant, it's merging into the background. But how it got merged into the background is a matter for the judge. Here's what Zona said a year ago: "We see from this study that 84 per cent of IE in use as the primary browser is policy-driven. We believe this significant increase [in IE's share] is largely due to the fact that IE 4.0 is an integral part of Windows 98, that Microsoft has continued to make inroads in the corporate marketplace, and numerous distribution agreements with service providers and other software vendors." That is, Microsoft has succeeded by integrating the browser, thus making IE a no-brainer choice for customers, and by sewing up the other distribution channels via contra deals. Which we believe is what the judge said. Oh dear. ® Complete Register Trial coverage

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