wants more Internet Explorer users, and it's using Windows NT
to get them.
The software behemoth is offering Internet service providers Windows NT 4.0
and related server software if they can convert their subscribers into IE
users. The promotion comes as browser rival Netscape Communications (NSCP) has swung the spotlight back on itself with its release of the
source code of its Communicator suite, which the company hopes will
engender a new wave of Netscape-compatible browsers and other applications.
The Microsoft promotion encourages Internet service providers to use the
Internet Explorer Administration Kit to customize Internet Explorer 4.0 and
distribute it to their subscribers. The kit allows ISPs to tweak IE 4.0's
interface, bookmarks, and default settings to suit their subscribers' needs.
To qualify for free Windows NT software, however, an ISP must customize IE
4.0 according to Microsoft's specifications--which allow Microsoft to keep
track of the number of new IE users. The alterations do not let
Microsoft gather any personal information about IE users, according to
Microsoft group product manager Bill Koszewski. However, ISPs may choose to
steer their users to a one-time "Welcome" page that asks the user why he or
she is installing IE 4.0.
To win up to two free copies of Windows NT 4.0 Server, Proxy Server
2.0, and the NT Option Pack, an ISP has to persuade as few as 500
subscribers to use its newly customized browser by the end of June. Given
those conditions, the promotion is targeted more toward smaller ISPs that
might not be on the Microsoft bandwagon, both to expose them to Windows
NT and to boost browser market share.
"Our goal is to reach out and do things that will help their business and
make them friends of Microsoft," said Koszewski. He defined smaller ISPs as
having "a few thousand subscribers" at most.
"We'd be very interested in getting a free copy of NT Server," said Wes
Parker, network administrator for Vermont-based Waitsfield Telecom, which
runs the Green Mountain Access ISP.
Waitsfield Telecom currently sends its subscribers a CD-ROM with both
Internet Explorer and Navigator "so they can choose and we can stay out of
the browser wars," Parker said.
Koszewski, in response to whether such a giveaway could violate "dumping"
laws, downplayed the economic significance of the promotion: "This is
pretty limited. One or two NT servers isn't enough to run an ISP on."
The list price of NT 4.0 Server, Proxy Server 2.0, and the Option Pack
together is about $1,800. Koszewski likened the giveaway to promotions in
other businesses: "It's like taping a package of snack chips to a bottle of
One employee at a large national ISP didn't think the promotion would have
much impact on his business decisions.
"This is directed more at smaller ISPs than the big guys," said Ed Douglas,
director of product management for ISP Mindspring. "For us to get 500 people
to use IE per day is a no-brainer."
Netscape recently added similar
customization capabilities to its Communicator software with its Client
Customization Kit, but the company doesn't give away its server software as
an incentive. When told of the promotion, a Netscape representative
questioned Microsoft's tactics.
"We don't have an operating system we can give away for free to our
customers," said spokeswoman Chris Holten. "This promotion begs the
question whether Microsoft is abusing their monopoly power."
Microsoft controls roughly 90 percent of the world's PC desktops with
versions of Windows 3.1 and 95, but the company isn't close to a majority
share of higher-end workstations and server systems, where Windows NT
competes against various flavors of Unix.
Microsoft representatives strenuously deny that the company's 90 percent
hold on the desktop market legally constitutes a monopoly. If the Justice
Department expands its investigation of Microsoft, that issue alone could
well become the subject of a protracted court battle.
So far, ISPs registered for the promotion number "in the hundreds," but
Microsoft doesn't expect to start tallying users until next month,