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A Coke, a Pepsi on a Windows shelf

What does Bill Gates have to fear by including Navigator with Windows and having the Netscape icon sit on the desktop?

Just when it appeared that the Justice Department was going to blink, it decided to go ahead and bring an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft.

Once again, the court filings bring to light the heavy-handed tactics Microsoft uses to get its way. This is no surprise to people in the industry who know that the software giant is prone to playing dirty; the real question is whether any of specific acts of bullying are illegal.

But while the courts ponder the weightier antitrust aspects of the case, the DOJ has also asked for a quick decision on its proposal that Microsoft either unbundle Internet Explorer (IE) from Windows 98 or include rival Netscape Navigator with the operating system so that users can have a choice of browsers.

Microsoft has decided to attack the latter proposal with some novel analogies. Bill Gates contends that asking him to include Navigator with Windows is like asking Coca-Cola to include three cans of Pepsi in every six-pack.

As long as we're playing this game, allow me an analogy of my own: Comparing Windows to Coke is like, well, comparing apples to oranges. Remember, in technology terms, Windows is a "platform"--so it's more like a store shelf upon which Coke and Pepsi cans sit. Hence, it would be more apt to say that asking Windows to include Navigator is like asking Coca-Cola to share shelf space with Pepsi.

If Windows is the store shelf, then consumers should be able to avail of the choices and decide whether they want Navigator or Explorer, depending on which is better suited to their taste.

Bill Gates has always espoused the virtues of a free market. He has contended that consumers vote with their pocket books--buying Microsoft Word or Excel or Office products, for example, because they perceive them to be better.

In the case of Explorer vs. Navigator, he has said that IE did not start to make major headway until version 3.0 of the browser was released. His point: People started to take to IE 3.0 (and 4.0) only because they considered it superior in features and function to the corresponding versions of Navigator.

According to Gates's logic, IE gained market share not because OEMs had to offer it in every box or that it was free or that it was closely tied to the operating system, but simply because users found it more appealing than Navigator.

If this is what he truly believes, then what does Gates have to fear by including Navigator with Windows and having the Netscape icon sit on the desktop? If he believes that Explorer is the better product, then he should have no problem letting users decide for themselves.

In other words, let Navigator share space with IE on the Windows shelf, er, platform. As the cliche goes, Bill, put your money where your mouth is.

Jai Singh is the editor of NEWS.COM.