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Site to charge IE 4.0 users

A manager of a free lost-and-found Web site plans to charge Internet Explorer 4.0 users to protest what he calls Microsoft's "monopolistic tendencies."

A manager of a free lost-and-found Web site plans to charge Internet Explorer 4.0 users as a way to protest what he calls Microsoft's "monopolistic tendencies."

Official Lost & Found is a site where people who have lost or found personal belongings can match up and hopefully return items to their rightful owners. The site, which has solved about 2,000 cases in just under a year, is entirely free--but not for long.

"We'd like to provide it for free to some but not to others," said the site's founder, Gordon French. "Internet Explorer 4 users would be charged if we found their matching items. But it's not so much directed against the users as it is against Microsoft, to make them think about how they're irritating people."

French said he will use browser-detection software to mark the cases submitted by IE 4.0 users. When a match is found for a lost item in the database, IE 4.0 users will have to pay $4 to retrieve the name and phone number of the item's finder. All other browser users, including those with older versions of IE, will not be charged.

A Microsoft spokeswoman noted that French has the right to do what he wants but might be hurting his own cause by handicapping IE 4.0 users.

"He certainly has the right to make a political statement, but one Web site doing this is not going to make an impact on Microsoft's or the industry's position," she said.

Some Microsoft Web sites as well as third-party content providers have offered special content to IE 4.0 users exclusively, blocking Netscape Navigator users from accessing that content, since IE 4.0 was released last fall. At least one site, Paramount's Star Trek: Continuum, has relented to user criticism and opened up all its content to Netscape users. The site was originally available exclusively through the Microsoft Network but will now partner with IBM.

In the past, the company has argued that content providers that create IE-only material are simply taking advantage of the browser's technology that Netscape hasn't matched. The exclusive content is not due to any agreements between Microsoft and developers, according to Microsoft executives.

Critics of the company worry that Microsoft is using its growing media business to create exclusive content and tip browser market share in its favor. Navigator currently has roughly 60 percent of the market, but IE has gained rapidly in the past two years. Microsoft executives predicted last year that the release of IE 4.0 would push Microsoft over the 50 percent mark.