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Goodbye MS IE? AOL revs up for browser wars two

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AOL, Microsoft’s biggest customer for Internet Explorer by a long chalk, finally seems on the brink of kissing the software goodbye - or alternatively, it’s just playing a little hard-ball. According to AOL documentation obtained by BetaNews, AOL staff have been busily compiling a list of IE-related sins committed by Microsoft, apparently in order to justify a split.

AOL’s support for IE was a critical component of Microsoft’s victory in the browser wars, and although these are long over, something in excess of 30 million users being shifted out of the IE camp again would still have an impact. If AOL did it, and that’s a pretty big if. Currently AOL and Microsoft do not have a deal, as AOL’s contract expired this year, but although the BetaNews leak shows that AOL is working on technology of its own, it looks rather more likely that the company anticipates catering for multiple browsers, rather than simply exchanging one exclusive deal for another.

And anyway, if AOL just cynically dumped IE and foisted Netscape on its users instead, it’d likely face a revolt - the company cannot possibly be that dumb.

AOL is currently working on a product codenamed Komodo, the intent being to ship this in new versions of AOL and CompuServe software around Q3 of this year. Komodo will “reduce AOL’s dependence on any single provider of browser technology,” and will be marketed globally under multiple brand names.

A version of Komodo using Netscape’s Gecko as the browser has apparently already been developed.

To some extent AOL may simply be throwing its weight around in order to extract concessions from Microsoft, but it’s also possible to figure out a plausible Komodo strategy for the company. As far as the Windows/PC market is concerned, AOL would likely damage itself far more than Microsoft by switching from IE, but it does itself no harm by offering users choice.

Beyond the PC market things are rather different, and this is the area where AOL could benefit from restarting the browser wars. There are no existing IE users to worry about, and it’s all still to play for. So, here we go again..? ®

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