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Survey: Browser bundling works

Most newbies use one particular Web browser for the same reason certain people climb mountains: Because it's there.

    Most newbies use one particular Web browser for the same reason certain people climb mountains: Because it's there. And once they choose their browser, they're not likely to switch.

    As a result, bundling browsers with computer operating systems, software products, and Internet service provider start-up kits is a strategy that works, according to the eighth biannual Web survey released today by the Georgia Institute of Technology.

    The best evidence of this success, it states, is Microsoft's Internet Explorer. IE is winning the war for novice users because of bundling deals with all sorts of partners, such as America Online, according to the survey.

    Jim Pitkow, the computer scientist who has been conducting the poll, admits that the survey is an informal one: Rather than randomly and scientifically chosen, respondents volunteer themselves for the study when they visit a Georgia Tech site.

    In an effort to compensate for this, Pitkow has taken a large sampling of about 7,000 people. And he said the sampling is based on gender, race, and other demographics similar to other national surveys.

    Pitkow said he decided to focus on browsers because "we weren't satisfied with the story behind the browser wars that other market research firms were producing. What we decided to do is focus on what are the fundamental factors are in driving the browser war."

    What he found was that bundling the browser with ISPs was the most significant factor in success. Following that were placement of the browser on purchased computers and then on software.

    "We do know that Microsoft was licensing their browser to ISPs and hardware companies at no cost while Netscape was charging a fee," Pitkow said. "Our survey documents the impact of these practices."

    Netscape executives said they needed more time to study and read the survey before they could comment on it.

    Until recently, Microsoft required that Internet Explorer be included with every copy of Windows sold. In October, the Justice Department alleged that the requirement violates the terms of an antitrust settlement reached between the government and the company in 1995. Although Microsoft strenuously argues it has the right to integrate products into Windows under the consent decree, the software giant agreed to temporarily stop the practice when it was threatened with contempt-of-court proceedings.

    According to the survey, the top reason respondents gave for choosing their browsers was that they were available in bundled software. Forty-five percent of novices (those using the Net for less than a year) fell into this category. And novice users were more than twice as likely as experienced users to use Internet Explorer.

    Once users chose their browsers, users weren't likely to switch. Seventy-two percent of all users and 81 percent of novices had not switched browsers in the last year, according to the survey.

    Pitkow said Netizens are reluctant to download, install, and learn new software unless there is a pressing need to do so--such as their old browser not working.

    The reluctance gives Netscape an advantage with experienced surfers. And it gives Microsoft one with the a growing segment of newer users, Pitkow said.

    Microsoft executives said users and companies choose Internet Explorer because it is a better browser. But Pitkow said novice users, and even more experienced ones, generally don't know the difference between IE and its rival, Netscape's Navigator.

    "There really isn't that much difference between the two," he said. "The browsers' functionality are pretty similar."

    Staff writer Dan Goodin contributed to this report.