Netscape's Clark: Keep Internet Explorer with Windows

One of Microsoft's former adversaries makes an unlikely appeal: Break up Microsoft, but keep the Windows operating system and the Internet Explorer Web browser together.

John Borland
John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
3 min read
Netscape co-founder Jim Clark, one of Microsoft's former chief adversaries, is making an unlikely appeal: Break up Microsoft, but keep the Windows operating system and the Internet Explorer Web browser in the same company.

It's an unexpected plea from a man who saw his own company plunge from the Net's heights, in large part because of the link between Windows and IE.

But Clark is worried that the proposed breakup of the software giant doesn't adequately guard against Microsoft regaining overwhelming power over the Internet. Allowing the company to put the most widely used Web browser under the same roof as its Web services is tempting fate, he said.

"The browser can be like the operating system," Clark said in an interview with CNET News.com. "The browser is to Internet services what the operating system is to (PC) applications."

Microsoft already has won a near-stranglehold on the Web browser market, Clark noted. Allow this to continue for a few years, while the court case is appealed and the breakup is administered, and this market lock will become stronger.

That raises the potential for a huge new industry of Web services companies, from applications to entertainment, all using IE as a base for their products. Allow Microsoft to put its Web browser in the same company as its own Web services, such as Microsoft Network, and the courts are simply laying the groundwork for more market abuses, Clark warned.

"This would give (Microsoft's applications company) an enormous amount of power," he said.

The former Netscape chief is preparing the argument for a tentative U.S. Senate hearing on the subject, he said.

Hear Jim Clark's reaction to the Microsoft ruling in a CNET TV interview this weekend.

CNET News.com TV
Saturday and Sunday, June 10 and 11, 4 to 5 p.m. ET on CNBC

Clark's argument strikes an ironic note, given his former company's role in the legal fight over whether Microsoft could make the Web browser a part of its Windows operating system.

Netscape and other foes had long argued that allowing Microsoft to integrate its browser with Windows was an unfair advantage and would badly undermine the competitive position of all rivals. Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale's testimony about discussions with Microsoft over the issue played a key role in the two-year trial.

The issue had previously been addressed--and highlighted by trial Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson--in a proposal that advocated splitting Microsoft into three companies. Under that scenario, one company would have taken responsibility for operating systems, another for applications, and a third for the company's Internet properties.

But government attorneys rejected this notion, saying the two-way split would be "simpler to implement."

Special coverage: Breakup Clark's advice has little chance of making it into policy, however, even if senators like what they hear. The appeals court that will look at the landmark Microsoft breakup proposal largely will be charged with deciding whether the original ruling was legally correct, rather than changing individual details of the remedy.

Even with his concerns, Clark said he is fairly satisfied with the judge's decision, however.

"Something had to be done," he said. "Given Microsoft's attitude, I think this was the right outcome."