Microsoft complains about Communicator 4.5 PR2

Microsoft Corporation is crying foul over the recent second beta of Netscape's Communicator 4.5, saying that the PR2 release, as its called, overwrites Internet Explorer settings without warning the user. Netscape, however, says that Communicator 4.5 PR2 is "Windows friendly" and offers an "aggressive plan to bring Windows users home to Netscape."

The debate centers around a new dialog in Communicator setup, called "Windows Integration Options," which prompts the user to decide whether Communicator's Navigator component should become the default Web browser. Other options let you set NetCenter as your homepage and NetCenter's search as your default Web search. This was reported early in WinInfo.

"We're going after Windows users and making it easier for people to make Communicator their default browser," said Communicator product manager Dave Bottoms. The Windows version is, by far, the most popular Netscape download, according to Bottoms.

In my own test of Communicator 4.5, I was extremely happy with the dialog, which presents the choice right up front. Internet Explorer, and previous versions of Communicator, simply change that browser to the default without asking. If anything, the new Communicator is a model of proper etiquette in this regard.

That, of course, is not the way Microsoft sees it. According to Microsoft, users that choose NetCenter as their homepage will be navigating to NetCenter, by default, when they launch Internet Explorer as well.

"Under the guise of choice and pushing aside IE, what they're actually doing is creating this proprietary tie to their portal," said Mike Nichols, a Microsoft Windows product manager. "What they are doing is saying, 'We're going to set Navigator as your default browser,' but in addition to that, we're going to change the way IE works. This thing where you change the behavior of other applications is Big Brotherish. They have a clear business objective to push the NetCenter portal, but they're doing it in a way that takes choice away from customers by changing someone else's software."

Netscape says that pushing users toward NetCenter is part of its plan to make NetCenter, an Internet "portal," the number one destination on the Web. Internet Explorer, by default, points user to Microsoft's Internet Start Web site, part of the Microsoft Network. Besides, on systems like Windows 98 and recent versions of Windows 95, Internet Explorer--which Microsoft installs by default without any way of uninstalling it--is setup to be the default browser without asking. At least Netscape, in their view, is letting the user decide.

It's a tough call: Netscape's new browser does change the settings in IE, and that's a little much. On the other hand, Netscape should be commended for giving the user the chance to set this setting during setup. That's certainly something Microsoft doesn't do. The irony of Microsoft accusing another company of "creating a proprietary tie" their own technology is, of course, hilarious. Besides, People that choose to download and install Netscape's browser typically do so because they want to actually use it. Unlike Internet Explorer, Netscape users have to go out and make that decision. In most cases, setting it up as the default will be exactly what the want. So the controversy here, in many ways, is non-existent

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