Microsoft Axes Smart Tags

Bowing to pressure from its critics and citing consumer feedback, Microsoft has decided not to include Smart Tags in the upcoming releases of Windows XP and IE6. Smart Tags use XML to turn certain keywords on any given Web site into links that provide additional information. Users would see a word with a purple dotted line underneath, and would be directed to sites hand picked by Microsoft – including its own offerings. The technology will be shelved for now, but may appear in later product releases. This decision does not affect a similar feature found in the recently released Office XP.

This week's refresh of the Internet Explorer 6.0 Public Preview included Smart Tags, but disabled the feature by default. Webmasters who objected to the added functionality on their pages were allowed to disable the links with a simple HTML tag. But this did not stop customers and Redmond competitors from crying foul, claiming Microsoft had an unfair advantage over where visitors were directed.

Many content providers believe that Microsoft is using its OS leverage to push its own online services, and Smart Tags only added fuel to the fire. Instead of seeing the XP product launch engulfed by controversy, the software giant revealed Thursday it would remove the feature.


The Wall Street Journal's Walter Mossberg reports that Microsoft was overwhelmed with feedback, not having expected such a backlash to the technology. Redmond VP Jim Allchin told the Journal, "We hadn't balanced the legitimate concerns of the content providers with the benefits we think Smart Tags can bring to users." Microsoft intends to redesign the feature without the added pressure of a release deadline.

This is not the first XP addition to cause trouble for Microsoft. The company has taken heavy heat over product activation, a mandatory form of registration. While intended to prevent software piracy, consumers are fearful about the privacy implications surrounding the requirement.

Whatever their fate, it is clear Smart Tags can provide a useful tool while browsing the Web - just so long as Microsoft does not hold complete control. Allchin stands firmly behind Smart Tags, describing himself as a "hardcore" believer in the concept.

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