AOL Considering Dropping IE

BetaNews has learned that America Online, Inc. is seriously considering ending its use of Microsoft's Internet Explorer as the Web browser in AOL software. AOL had agreed to use Internet Explorer in exchange for being pre-installed on Windows desktops.

Microsoft's Jim Cullinan informed BetaNews that the agreement to carry AOL on Windows installations in exchange for AOL making Internet Explorer the internal browser in its software ended January 1, 2001. AOL and Microsoft did discuss renewing the agreement, but nothing was formally agreed upon. Sources close to both companies blame the other for a breakdown in talks.

"AOL can use any browser technology they want in their client. There is not [a] current contractual relationship between the companies," Cullinan writes. This would also mean Microsoft has no obligations to promote AOL in future versions of Windows.

An AOL spokesperson seems to disagree, disputing the possibility of ending the use of Internet Explorer and tells BetaNews, "We continue to believe that carriage (sic) in Windows is important."

However, an internal AOL e-mail provided to BetaNews asks various departments to submit information about how Microsoft may have affected AOL's software development timelines and violated service level agreements. Several other issues were made key points, such as Microsoft's reluctance to bundle the AOL Hong Kong client with Windows Me. All of this information was to be forwarded along to AOL's legal counsel, possibly as reasons for ending any agreement with the Redmond giant, contractual or implied.

Many believed AOL would make the switch to Netscape after it purchased the company in 1999, but opted instead to extend it's contract for Internet Explorer. Microsoft Vice President Brad Chase stated at the time that he believed AOL would eventually use Netscape, but not during the heat of the government's anti-trust case.

AOL holds the most power in the browser war, as its 30 million users comprise the world's largest online service. Changing the software's browser would dramatically shift market share, giving Netscape new life. Internet Explorer currently controls approximately 88 percent of the browser market.

This information coincides with news that an alpha version of CompuServe 2000 7.0, AOL's newest CompuServe client, operates with Netscape's Gecko browser engine in lieu of Internet Explorer. Internal documents state that Komodo, the new beta, will be available for AOL as well as CompuServe in August 2001. Documents regarding Komodo indicate that the software will be browser agnostic, and that users may be able to select whether their software will use Internet Explorer or Netscape to render Web pages.

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