Microsoft may stand alone in OS/browser integration

While Microsoft is busy integrating its Web browser with its operating system, other OS vendors are staying away from a single view -- and not just because the Justice Department might frown on the idea. At Apple Computer, which pioneered the mass-market graphical interface, officials say the company has no immediate plans to create an integrated product like Microsoft's Windows 98 - mainly because customers are not requesting such functionality.

While Microsoft is busy integrating its Web browser with its operating system, other OS vendors are staying away from a single view -- and not just because the Justice Department might frown on the idea.

At Apple Computer, which pioneered the mass-market graphical interface, officials say the company has no immediate plans to create an integrated product like Microsoft's Windows 98 - mainly because customers are not requesting such functionality.

"The idea of managing one’s desktop through a browser has been met with varying degrees of positive response," says Peter Lowe, a product manager at Apple for MacOS. The active desktop in Windows 95 with Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0 allows a user to call up a file from any drive on the system as well as http:// addresses from the Internet.

Lowe says while some Apple users might find the greater integration appealing, some find it overwhelming and confusing. "There is a distinction between local and remote resources," explains Lowe. "A complete blurring can be confusing for our customers."

"I prefer stand-alone applications," says Bradley Wilson, a Macintosh user in Austin, Texas. "If I am having problems with my browser, I am limited."

Still, Lowe says some integration is important -- for example, between IE 4.0 and e-mail programs. If a user opens a URL address within an e-mail message in a MacOS 8.0 mail program, the OS automatically launches the browser to view the Web site.

As Microsoft comes out with new versions of IE, Apple officials say they plan on including it with MacOS. However, Microsoft plans to continue down the path of integrating the OS and the browser and not add perfunctory features.

Microsoft officials will not comment on future IE developments, but the company has shown a commitment to further integration -- a key issue in its battle with the Justice Department.

Lowe says there are Apple users who don’t care about browser windows, forward and back arrows. "They just want user information sent to their desktop." Apple development teams are exploring ways to make web browsing much simpler, Lowe says, but will not comment further on how that could be achieved or whether it would be from Apple or a third-party vendor.

Microsoft made IE 4.0 available for a number of Unix operating systems in late February. None of the vendors, however, are shipping IE with their products, nor do they have plans to do so.

Sun Microsystems Ipresently ships the latest version of Netscape Navigator with its Solaris operating system and has no plans to develop Solaris for further integration with an IE product, according to a

company spokesperson. A Solaris user could download the appropriate version of IE 4.0 from the

Web and replace Netscape Navigator on the desktop.

Craig Beilinson, an IE product manager, says there are some major differences, including file association, between Windows and the Unix operating platforms that presently prohibit further steps in integration. "On the UNIX box you can’t click on a document and launch a program," he said. "You must launch a program first." He says this is extremely important when a user is navigating through an intranet.

While Microsoft would like to help other OS vendors wherever possible by giving them the technical information they need to further integrate versions of IE, it is really the prerogative of the OS vendor to Internet-enable their operating system, Beilinson says.

"We would help them wherever it would make sense," he says.

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