I have just finished reading the State of New York et al., [Plaintiff] v. Microsoft Corporation [Defendant]. Much of the discussion centers on what the court calls “the application barrier to entry”. This describes a situation where Microsoft, through its monopoly of over 90% market share of operating systems, prevents applications from third parties from gaining distribution.
The browser is now part of the operating system. This is no longer a controversial viewpoint – although whether it should be still remains controversial. As it is part of the OS, IE has the same power – to prevent distribution of third party applications – as the OS. However there is a difference. The browser speaks to a service – as middleware. If middleware is not available to the user through the browser then, due to the browser’s dominance, it simply does not exist as far as the user is concerned. Over 500 million desktops simply cannot access it.
Microsoft therefore has the power of life and death over middleware. The decision not to renew the RealNames relationship literally kills the middleware from the point of view of the user. This is the impact of monopoly produced by a 90%+ browser market share.
The “application barrier to entry” is repeated, but now it is the browser and internet middleware that is being squeezed.
The following diagram shows the impact of Microsoft excluding all middleware but Microsoft’s own MSN Search from the browser.
In the post-RealNames world all access to content from the browser address bar will be mediated by an interstitial page – delivered by MSN Search. It will be impossible, in any language, to type in a name and go directly to a place. Microsoft will – of course – monetize the interstitial page. Is this a good user experience? Will brand managers appreciate all navigation to their brand being interrupted by a visit to MSN Search? Is this a good outcome? Is it a violation of anti-trust regulations concerning the “application barrier to entry”? I think we will have answers to these questions in time.