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It's Microsoft's World...You're Just Living In It
(Written August 11, 2001)

When Microsoft was sued by the Justice Department for antitrust violations, many observers felt it would force the company to change its practices.

If recent moves are any indication, the computer giant may actually be tightening its grip on computer users as it continues to use its dominance to influence areas that are not even part of Microsoft's core product line.

In a few months, Microsoft will unleash its latest operating system, Windows XP.  Ignore, for a moment, the question of whether it's necessary to roll out expensive new operating systems every few years, when it's possible to function with a system nearly 10 years old (Windows 95).  The most distinguishing factor of XP is the introduction of the smart link.  What smart links do is search websites and create their own links, even if it means overwriting what the page designer intended.

Microsoft calls this feature "innovative," but I see it as intrusive and devaluing my web experience. It doesn't take a genius to predict that the links XP will create will refer to either Microsoft or one of its business partners, who will likely pay exorbitant fees to be in XP's good graces.  If you thought the recent revelations about the search engine placement scandal were bad, wait until you see links on your own site being rewritten to promote the latest MS updates.  There is also an issue about privacy concerns with the Passport feature, which is a program that collects credit card information, martial status and addresses for  online shopping.  The hitch here is that Microsoft is inserting a screen that informs you that "You need a Passport to use  Internet communications features," which can easily mislead millions of people into submitting their information when they just want to get online.

But that is not enough.  Microsoft is also using its clout to wean people away from the MP3 to other proprietary formats.  In its new operating system, users will be able to create MP3s, but only at the severely reduced rate of 56 kbs.   The standard rate for MP3s is at least 128 kbs.   However, Windows Media files will be able to be created at optimum sound quality, with the added bonus of a smaller file size. 

This initiative is clearly playing into the hands of the recording industry, whose hatred of the MP3 has caused them to unite as never before.  With Microsoft supporting their efforts to kill the MP3, it would seem that a major roadblock has been removed.

These are strange activites for a company that claims to be about "empowering people."  Seems to me like they want the power to determine your online activities.

Copyright 2001 Anthony Lamar Rucker.  All rights reserved.

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