Neil Randall: Hey, Kevin, have you given any thought to what 1998 will bring as far as Internet Explorer and Communicator are concerned? Sure, we've just got everything successfully installed from the 4.0 launches, but neither company seems interested in resting on their laurels. Already we've seen Internet Explorer 4.01, which adds accessibility features, and Communicator upgrades as far as 4.04. What do you think will happen as the browsers head towards 5.0? Microsoft has had their whole strategy stalled by the Department of Justice ruling preventing them (even if only temporarily) from forcing IE into Windows - Win98 is pretty meaningless without it - and it'll be interesting to see what happens from here. Any predictions?
Kevin Savetz: I do wish that Netscape and Microsoft would just tidy up the bugs in their browsers and call it quits, but that just isn't going to happen. I'm sure you can expect to see better, more bloated versions of both browsers in the coming year. You can count in it, in fact, but what you might not be expecting is another player in the browser scene. My prediction is that there's room for more than two in the battle of the browsers, and the browser war will become much more interesting when a third big name steps up to the plate. Not only will this new browser snag a healthy percentage of market share, it will make Netscape and Microsoft reconsider their priorities. The renewed browser wars will mean new features and better software. We users will ultimately win.
Neil Randall: Kevin, m'lad, I'm afraid you've finally slipped over the edge. Too much channeling, too much off-line browsing, too much bookmarking - you're finally certifiably bonkers. There's no chance in hell a third significant browser will appear, because there's just no room. I'd like to see one as much as you would, but Netscape and Microsoft own the browser market, and they're not going anywhere. Microsoft will win the battle against the DoJ, Netscape will fall to a 50% share (with MS the other 50%), and everything will fall into a next-version lock-step. Besides, with MS giving their browser away, and Netscape offering theirs for free download (even if, technically, you have to pay for it eventually), why would anyone bother with this market? It's as hopeless as the word processor market (which I'm equally sad about).
Kevin Savetz: Have you considered the possibility that there may be another -- in fact, a profitable -- market strategy for browsers other than giving them away for free? Consider commercial software, consider shareware, even consider how the online services make money. I contend that someone will build a better browser AND make money at it.
Another prediction for you, Neil, one that you and your Microsoft-lovin' cronies won't like. In 1998, the anti-Microsoft contingency on the Net and in the computing community in general will start to get a foothold. As Microsoft continues to pump out bulky, sloppy software and continues to demand that the industry accept its way of doing business, its protocols, and its view of the world, more users will finally cry "Enough!" All those folks that you've written off as Linux-using, Mac-loving, and OS/2-clicking malcontents will turn into a rallying force. And Internet Explorer 4 will lose market share because of it. 50% will not be attainable.
Neil Randall: Believe it or not, I'm not a Microsoftie. I like Windows and all point-and-click GUIs, but if someone came up with a completely new concept in user interfaces, I'd be the first to jump. And I hope Microsoft gets the competition in office software, operating systems, and browsers it desperately needs. But when Win98 and WinNT 5.0 ship with IE as an essential component (and it is), people will start using IE just because it's there. At that point, though, IE will no longer be a "free" product; its cost will be figured into the operating system, and I predict that by the end of 1998 the downloadable versions for other operating systems will be significantly lesser-featured.
Will the software world and the computer consumer rally against Microsoft? To a degree, yes, but not enough to stop them. I wish it was enough - I honestly do. But I don't think most people actually care whose corporate logo is on the box; they just want the most widely used software (I'm talking General Computer User here, a huge group just beginning to be defined). And that will be Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows at least until the new century, and increasingly Microsoft Internet Explorer as well. Wanna make a bet that elements of Office become part of the OS as well?
The one random factor in all of this, of course, is Java. Or any other environment that might stop the operating system from being the most important feature of a computer. So far, I'm not convinced that Java is powerful enough to do this, nor that the Java supporters are powerful enough to prevent Microsoft from screwing up their plans. And one of those plans is to take over the lead in browser share.
Kevin Savetz: You've got it all wrong again, Neil. Java is not a random factor -- I wish it were the variable that could unseat Microsoft, but it's just not good enough. You can have all the supporters in the world, but when you get down to it, Java just isn't good enough. Something -- or someone -- else will have to be. I predict that a year from now, Java will be little more than a footnote in Internet history.
One last thing that you're wrong about: people do care whose corporate logo is pulsing in the corner of their screen. People have brand loyalty to computer products, just as they have loyalty to their favorite cookies or car maker. The General Computer User holds a grudge, too. If a company pisses him off one too many times, he will stop using those programs. For most of us, Microsoft is about one system crash away from extermination. In 1998, more than a few of us will finally say good riddance.