Microsoft has renewed its blitz on the competition with an event at which 13 US ISPs, including AT&T WorldNet and EarthLink, pledged to use Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer 4.0 as their default browser.
The announcement came amid a blitz of Microsoft announcements about Explorer 4.0, which is scheduled for a splashy debut September 30 in San Francisco. Some 50 hardware manufacturers also agreed last week to bundle the browser with their products, and Microsoft told a ballroom full of IT managers and consultants at the Explorer '97 conference that the browser will be the best on the market for the enterprise.
Microsoft says improvements to Explorer 4.0 include enhanced security, push technology and Active Channels, and the ability to use the browser as an interface to Windows.
At the Explorer '97 conference, Microsoft cast those features in an IT-friendly light, particularly the "security zones," which will let administrators decide what users can and cannot download from the Internet.
"If you wake up grumpy one day and say, 'No Java,' you can set everyone up for no Java," said Rob Bennett, Explorer product manager at Microsoft.
Bennett's keynote speech on the much-anticipated Explorer 4.0 came in the midst of a concerted public relations effort by Microsoft to build momentum for the browser. Last week, the Redmond, Washington company dangled the Internet Explorer 4.0 Administration Kit (IEAK) and other tools in front of IT managers.
The administration kit will let IT managers configure and monitor desktops across the enterprise, Bennett said. But despite his assertion that the IEAK will help administrators "lock down push," not everyone at the show was convinced.
"I don't even want to have to set the configurations once," said one IT manager who asked for anonymity. "I don't want any sort of push in the workplace. I know it could be a benefit, too, but I think the potential problems are worse."
Still, most at the show were impressed by Explorer's one-click navigation, enhanced drag-and-drop capabilities, Active Desktop and Channels, and revamped toolbar, the Explorer Bar.
"There are some clever things there, like making any Web page your home page or your desk wallpaper," said Pekka Jarvinen, director of technology at ICL Data Oy, an Internet consultancy in Helsinki, Finland.
"Our customers will be getting IE more and more now, mostly because it's free," Jarvinen said.
Bennett said Microsoft was on track to ship Explorer 4.0 for the Windows 3.x, Windows NT 3.51, and Macintosh platforms in the fourth quarter of the year, with a Sun Solaris version due in the first quarter of 1998.
Other ISPs that declared Explorer 4.0 their default browser include Concentric Network, Erol's Internet, GTE Internetworking, internetMCI, MindSpring, Microsoft Network, Netcom, Prodigy, Sprint Internet Passport, Sprynet, and Time Warner's Road Runner cable modem service. The ISPs did not sign exclusivity agreements.
Earlier this week, Compaq, Dell, Digital, Gateway 2000, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Packard Bell, Toshiba, Sony, and other hardware vendors announced they would include Explorer 4.0 on their new machines, beginning October 30.
Microsoft's chief Internet rival, Netscape, dismissed the announcements as merely publicity stunts.
"It's their 'Reacting to Netscape Everywhere' program," said Dave Rothchild, director of client marketing at Netscape, in Mountain View, California. "They worked for a month and came up with a list of vendors that are going to ship Windows," he added.