It's no secret that Microsoft wants to convert the world to its Web browser, but now its marketing efforts have entered the realm of the subliminal.
This week, Net surfers who visit Microsoft's home page using browsers other than Internet Explorer 3.0, including Netscape Communications' Navigator or even its own Internet Explorer 2.0, are greeted with a big headline at the top of the page that reads: "Microsoft Releases Internet Explorer 3.0; Critics Say it's the Best Browser Today."
In contrast, Internet Explorer 3.0 users who visit Microsoft's home page and who presumably like the browser already are not lobbied as heavily to switch to version 3.0. Instead of pushing the new Microsoft browser, the top headline on Microsoft's home page encourages users to visit the anniversary party for Windows 95. An Internet Explorer 3.0 headline does appear lower on the home page, though it's given less emphasis than on versions of the home page viewed via Navigator and other browsers.
The Microsoft Web site provides differing views to Internet Explorer 3.0 and other browser by "sniffing" which product a user has when they visit the Web site. The sites can then change their Web pages accordingly, displaying special layouts, such as style sheets, that are unique to a particular browser.
Microsoft officials conceded they had altered the Web site for non-3.0 users, but that there's nothing wrong with some subtle marketing.
One analyst agreed, saying that a key feature of the Web is its ability to delivery targeted information.
"It's marketing that I wouldn't call insidious," said Allen Weiner, an analyst at Dataquest. "Just as they're able to serve up different kinds of content and ad messages, why can't they serve up preferential marketing messages?"
Netscape couldn't be reached for comment.