Bridge of the Enterprise: The Browser Wars Continue

As the war between Microsoft and Netscape heats up as IE 5.0 rapidly approaches beta release and Netscape advances its products, it is important to note these technologies are beginning to go their separate ways.

Last year, I wrote a column asking what the big deal was about browsers. Why the war? What's in it for a company like Microsoft? The answer at that time was not in the browsers themselves, but in what was behind the browsers where the control and, ultimately, the money was. Let's face it, how can Bill live on a mere $50+ billion? What kind of standard is that?

The issue in the browser war is still not the browsers, which are mere pawns used to help establish control. It is this control, which lies in the Web servers and authoring tools, that determines where the money is. If a company wants to gain dominance in the server market, an excellent idea would be to control the browser market so you can set new standards that will work only with your product.

For instance, dynamic Web pages designed to run on a Netscape server and created with one authoring tool may be supported in Netscape's browser in such a way that, if viewed by Microsoft's browser, would appear like plain text or not at all. The thought here is both Netscape and Microsoft can build enough real functionality and pizzazz into their products both on the front- and back-end, so consumers flock en masse to their respective product.

Microsoft is good at employing these types of competitive tactics. MS Office was not always the No. 1 desktop office product, but it owns the market now. Obviously, Microsoft Windows has successfully all but obliterated its desktop operating systems competitors.

All this posturing and prepping to gain market control is bad for the consumer. If Microsoft and Netscape both survive this war, it could eventually mean users would have to maintain two versions of the same site. Each site would be especially tuned to the intricacies of each browser. An alternative will be to create generic sites, but these will be bland and uninspired by comparison and therefore unlikely.

As consumers of these products, we must make our group voices heard by both these vendors before it's too late. Developers, users, managers and ISPs must all band together to prevent this from happening. The next versions of IE and Netscape will begin this trend of splitting away, and if the process begins, who knows where it will end. I am certain I do not want to maintain multiple versions of my company's site.

I am not suggesting more government intervention; this is the last thing we need. What should be done is a general boycott of new functionality. This may be difficult, but if no one uses the new browsers, the developers will not waste their time writing to new features and will not buy the latest tools to develop the new bells. Also, managers will not upgrade to the latest serving tools, so they won't sell either. See, we do have the power!

We will soon have the opportunity to send a valuable message to the industry as a whole. We, the consumer, will decide who prospers. We have the power to change the market overnight and can remind these vendors who have grown so full of themselves that, without us, there is no market to dominate.

A message to both Microsoft and Netscape, as well as any other vendor who thinks they are "in control": Think again, pal! We are not as dumb as you think we are.

A veteran of the IBM midrange arena since 1983, Chris Gloede is executive VP for Business Solutions Group in Wayne, Pa. cgloede@thebsg.com.