Microsoft upgrades IE (yawn)
March 24, 1999
by Alex Lash
(IDG) -- Bill Gates used the release of the latest version of Internet Explorer last week as a backdrop for an update on Microsoft's Internet plans. But he didn't make much progress in clarifying the company's online strategy.
There's a growing sense that Microsoft's dizzying caravan of Internet projects could use a guiding hand. Brad Silverberg, a former exec now on leave, declined the job. Anyone waiting for Microsoft to spell out its Web strategy in detail will have to wait.
"It's not something they'll announce in one big event," says Rick Sherlund, a software analyst at Goldman Sachs. "It's a series of baby steps."
In the past, they've tried the opposite approach. On Dec. 7, 1995, Microsoft held a massive event to unveil its initial Internet strategy. Since then, it has used its financial reach, development muscle and market share to address the Net on several fronts.
Gates last week talked about consumers receiving "information anywhere, anytime, on any device," and asserted that the Internet plus Microsoft software would create "the most powerful tool of all time." Last week, though, Microsoft made only incremental progress toward that goal.
Meanwhile, there's danger to Microsoft in the growing strategy of moving applications onto the Net and making them rentable: Microsoft Office last year brought in about a third of the company's $14.5 billion in revenues.
On the other hand, Microsoft has taken dead aim at some of its rivals. A list of Internet radio sites built into the browser toolbar is an obvious jab at RealNetworks – the IE radio toolbar allows almost instant access to a wide variety of audio programs through the Windows Media Player, which is incompatible with Real's latest software.
Make no mistake: Microsoft isn't just posturing for the Feds when it frets about competitors lurking around the corner. The company's dominance on the PC may seem assured, but some of its brightest are reaching middle age. They may lack the fire and agility needed to shift as quickly as they once did. If so, don't expect all the pieces of Microsoft's Internet puzzle to fit together quite as snugly as it might like.
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