TV-PGMarch 26, 2000: Microsoft launches a covert attack against Yours Truly, by making the Mac version of Internet Explorer 5.0 somewhat AtAT-unfriendly. Meanwhile, the government appears less than impressed with the latest settlement offer from Redmond, setting the stage for a verdict on Tuesday, and Apple misses out on a golden advertising opportunity at the Oscars...
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We're In Their Sights (3/26/00)

Never let it be said that them Redmond-dwellers ain't some crafty buggers. Look, nobody's still harboring any illusions about what Microsoft did to Netscape, right? Billy G. saw that he had a comfortable monopoly in the operating systems market, so when he was late to the Web browser party, he simply bundled Internet Explorer "free" with Windows, sat back, and waited for the market share numbers to change. Netscape, once far ahead, had to stop charging for its browser, and even that wasn't enough; eventually the company saw no way to survive but to sell out to AOL. A simplistic way to put this whole situation: when Netscape refused to "carve up" the browser market with Microsoft, Microsoft used its Windows market power to put Netscape out of commission.

That said, while we find that example of Microsoft's behavior to be abominable, we don't find it particularly surprising. Microsoft saw the Internet and Java as the "platform" that could theoretically make the Windows monopoly redundant, so steps were taken to wrest control of the browser market. While the way the company went about it may have been illegal, we can't say it's surprising. What is surprising to us is that Microsoft would consider AtAT enough of a threat to try to put us out of commission, too.

Now before you dismiss these as the paranoid ramblings of the perpetually sleep-deprived, hear us out. You know, of course, that by threatening to eliminate the Mac version of Office, Microsoft "persuaded" Steve Jobs to replace Netscape with Internet Explorer as the Mac's default browser. Then all Bill had to do was sit back and wait; eventually Mac users got over their initial horror, and several switched to IE. New users, like all those first-time iMac-buyers, didn't even necessarily know they had a choice; they double-clicked "Browse the Internet" and IE popped up. Over time, Microsoft grabbed the majority of the Mac-browsing audience. And all this time, AtAT was broadcasting "Redmond Justice" updates, and apparently getting under Bill's skin.

Well, the hammer's finally fallen. The Mac version of IE 5.0 is out, and early reports (from faithful viewers such as Jens Baumeister) show that it's none too AtAT-friendly. Judging by the feedback we got from "early adopters," those of you who have already upgraded were probably shocked to see AtAT's text rendered much larger than before. The problem is this: with IE5, Microsoft changed the default font size to 16, whereas previous versions of IE (and Netscape, and probably every other graphical browser for the Mac) adopted a standard size of 12. Hence, AtAT looks really weird. Weird enough to get people to switch channels? Maybe. But don't touch that dial! If you edit your Preferences to set the font size back to 12, AtAT will appear normal again, with just a few rendering anomalies (such as the TV set on the Feedback page). What's particularly diabolical about this anti-AtAT tactic is that we can't simply update our code to ensure that IE5 viewers get the best visual experience; while we can tell what browser you're using, there's no way for us to know whether you're surfing with the default font size of 16, or if you went ahead and switched to 12 for a more compatible surfing experience.

Wait, it gets even worse-- faithful viewer Peachawat didn't even get to see the "goofy" version of AtAT. He reports that after upgrading to IE5, trying to tune into AtAT caused his browser to freeze. And when he tried to run his backup copy of IE4.5, he discovered that evidently the newer version replaced some crucial shared libraries, because IE4.5 alsofroze when he tried to load AtAT. (He switched to iCab to contact us.) Note that Peachawat is the first to report that nasty behavior, but if others out there are experiencing the same thing, please contact us and help us find the problem. We figure it'd be far too blatant if Microsoft made its new browser always crash when loading AtAT; it's much more insidious-- and less attention-getting-- if the problems only afflicts a few people out of a hundred.

So here we sit, helpless victims of an evil scheme to decimate our viewership with goofy-looking fonts and occasional crashes-- a scheme over two years in the making. Of course, we hear some of you protest, since Internet Explorer became the Mac's default browser before AtAT even debuted. All we can say is, Bill Gates is more forward-looking than we once gave him credit for. Imagine, foreseeing our rise in the ratings and our fearless exposés of Redmond shenanigans before we ever even hit the airwaves! But it's clear to us now; the entire push to control the Mac browser market was no more than an elaborately-crafted plan to destroy AtAT. Well, fear not-- we're not going anywhere. It'll take more than a browser upgrade to take us out. Wait-- where are you going?...

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Call That An Offer? (3/26/00)

Hey, speaking of "Redmond Justice," how 'bout we dish a little dirt on the latest developments, just to give the devil his due? When last we tuned in, Judge Jackson poured a little adrenaline on the proceedings by announcing that, unless significant progress was reported towards a settlement, he'd issue his ruling on Tuesday. Can you believe it? This phase of "Redmond Justice" is finally drawing to a close; we're either going to see a settlement, or-- hopefully-- an honest-to-goodness verdict in mere days.

Needless to say, Jackson's announcement (aw, heck-- let's just call it a threat) lit a fire under the butts of Microsoft's legal team. Unless they're trés brain-dead (a possibility we can't rule out completely), they're quite aware that any verdict handed down by Jackson is going to be the legal ruling equivalent of hitting Bill Gates with a chair-- and there's no foreign-object ban in this cage match. So, last Friday, Microsoft faxed the government a new settlement proposal. Now, at this late hour, you'd think that proposal would make some pretty heavy concessions, right? Nuh-uh. Reportedly Microsoft offered to let the government regulate "some" of its business practices and considered making the Windows API public to third-party applications developers. Oooooo. And all the company's asking in return is not having to admit that it ever did anything wrong, and free rein to stick whatever they want to into Windows. Gee, that's all? Office is already ubiquitous; imagine what would happen if it were built into Windows. Would any developer try to compete with that? Wave bye-bye to all word processors that aren't Word. Say so long to all spreadsheets that aren't Excel. You get the idea.

But here's the best part: reportedly, Microsoft's offering to separate Internet Explorer from Windows. Stop, please, you're killing us! Sure, now that the browser market share numbers are reversed and Netscape sold itself to AOL, thus turning a decent browser with a promising future into just another AOL portal tool, now Microsoft is willing to unbundle IE from Windows. News flash: Jackson ordered the company to do that in 1997, and Microsoft respectfully told him to go play in traffic. Microsoft's willingness to cooperate now is a bit like promising to stop stabbing the victim once he stops breathing.

So, as expected, the government wasn't exactly jumping to accept Microsoft's generous offer. As of late Friday nobody from the government had even flown to Chicago to negotiate. And now an Associated Press article reports that the government is, indeed, "unimpressed" with Microsoft's latest half-hearted (or half-somethinged, anyway) motions towards settlement. "New signs" suggest that the two sides aren't likely to make sufficient headway on any kind of agreement before Jackson delivers his verdict on Tuesday. So keep your fingers crossed! A Jackson verdict is our best bet for some serious sparkage in this tired old courtroom drama-- but one way or another, something big's going to happen. And soon.

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Missing The Big Show (3/26/00)

In happier news, your friendly neighborhood AtAT staff are bleary-eyed and quite spent following that seemingly neverending event known as the 72nd Annual Academy Awards. While we're not in the motion picture biz, there's nothing we like more than a good movie-- unless perhaps it's the chance to see lots of big-name celebrities dress up in silly clothes and sit uncomfortably through four hours of tongue-tied acceptance speeches, stale teleprompted "humor," and musical numbers that occasionally redefine the word "awful." This year, though, everything seemed to click. Other than the fact that three people in the audience died of old age before the show was over (and they were in their late twenties when it started), we have little to complain about.

Check it out-- Angelina Jolie won for Best Supporting Actress. Good for her! We felt a little bad for Chloë Sevigny, but she'll get other chances. The Matrix won every technical award for which it was nominated. American Beauty cleaned up, snagging five Oscars-- only Annette Bening was passed over as Best Actress, but if she had won, we'd be ranting about how Hilary Swank got robbed, instead of marvelling that a movie like Boys Don't Cry actually got that kind of recognition. And far from being downplayed, the performance of "Blame Canada" from the South Park movie (done by Robin Williams, no less) received the most lavish treatment of all the Best Song nominees, and as far as we know, Canada has yet to declare war on the Academy in retort. Okay, so that utterly forgettable Phil Collins song won instead; at least the old boy seemed genuinely surprised and happy during his acceptance speech.

In fact, our biggest gripe isn't with any aspect of the show or even with who won the awards. It's with Apple. C'mon, here's the second-biggest advertising opportunity of the year, and it's being watched by a billion movie fans the world over. Didn't anyone at Apple think that this might just be a perfect chance to push iMovie? We saw plenty of other consumer-targeted ads related to the movie business. Heck, Sony even advertised its own digital video editing hardware and software. So where was iMovie? Or even a new "Think Different" ad with a montage of movie geniuses over the years? Frankly, we're stunned that Apple passed on such a perfect opportunity to hype itself both to movie-crazy consumers and the movie-making industry itself; we thought "content creation" was one of Apple's core markets. Oh, well... As the nominees who went home without awards know, there's always next year.

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