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IE 4 gets ISP backing

After trumpeting deals to bundle Internet Explorer 4.0 on the PCs of major hardware makers, Microsoft strikes similar deals with leading Internet service providers.

Two days after trumpeting deals to bundle Internet Explorer 4.0 on the PCs of more than 50 hardware makers, Microsoft (MSFT) has struck similar deals with leading Internet service providers.

AT&T WorldNet, Concentric Network, EarthLink Network, Erol's Internet, GTE Internetworking, internetMCI, MindSpring, the Microsoft Network, Netcom, Prodigy, Sprynet, and Time Warner's Road Runner cable modem service will all provide IE 4.0 as their default browser, Microsoft announced today.

No special agreements were signed, though, and it remains to be seen how extensively the ISPs integrate IE 4.0 and its related technology--Active Desktop components, push channels, and the Outlook Express email client--into their services, or if they'll simply offer a branded version of the new browser.

"There's no contractual issue that says they have to offer one thing or another," said Explorer product manager Kevin Unangst.

Some ISPs have already stated their intentions. AT&T WorldNet, for example, will have an IE 4.0 channel.

Rival Netscape Communications is also working with OEMs and ISPs to create customized channels and desktop environments based on Netscape's latest browser and push clients.

Both Microsoft and Netscape are exploiting every distribution channel to get a leg up in the battle for browser share. OEM bundling, ISPs, and even the education sector are fair game. It's no surprise that the two companies, citing different sources, disagree on the market share numbers.

Netscape claims to have roughly 70 of the user browser share. Microsoft claims about 34 percent but puts Netscape's share closer to 50 percent.

Microsoft's claim to be the "default browser" of an ISP doesn't mean that ISP can't also distribute Navigator. Many of the ISPs announced today by Microsoft, including Erol's and AT&T, also show up on Netscape's list of Navigator distributors that are taking part in the "Netscape Everywhere" initiative.

Microsoft defined "default" this way: "It's when new users go to one of these services [and] they get something--usually a CD-ROM--that has Internet Explorer," said IE 4.0 lead product manager Bill Koszewski.

A Netscape representative had his own interpretation of the term: "Sometimes it means it's the one that installs off the CD-ROM; sometimes it means it's the one checked in a checklist," said Netscape director of client product marketing Dave Rothschild. "It's more of a marketing term than a specific implementation."

Concentric is one ISP that won't even supply Navigator to its customers. Home customers calling to order Concentric's service will receive a CD-ROM with IE 4.0.

"We could put Navigator on the CD-ROM if we wanted to," said James Isaacs, Concentric vice president of product management. "But we want to keep life simple."

So far, Netscape has not announced any specific implementations from its partners. The Communicator software suite has been out since June, and Netcaster began shipping in August.

"We are working with individual service providers on a number of things," said Communicator product manager Edith Gong. She declined to say when such projects would come to fruition.