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Software Sabers Drawn in Pivotal Duel for the Internet

By Daniel SneiderStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 7, 1995



SAN FRANCISCO

LOOKING at newsmagazine covers or television recently, one may think that Bill Gates is everywhere. From the introduction of Windows 95 to the publication of his new book, "The Road Ahead," the billionaire founder of computer software megafirm Microsoft Corp. has been touted as the man who will dictate the future of the "information highway."

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But to California's Silicon Valley whizkids, Mr. Gates and Microsoft are would-be monopolists who are desperately trying to contain a revolution that threatens its dominance. On Monday, three of the hottest firms in the valley made what amounts to a joint declaration of war on Microsoft, announcing a collaboration designed to make a new software technology the standard for the Internet's World Wide Web.

Today, Gates fires back, unveiling plans for Blackbird and Gibraltar, two rival Internet products.

Analysts see these moves as the latest skirmishes in a long battle over the direction of the industry. At stake are not only competing products but widely differing concepts of how consumers will travel the information highway.

"A lot of the battle is political and a lot is geographical - the Silicon Valley mentality precludes the Microsoft mentality," says Allen Weiner, who analyzes the Internet for Dataquest, a San Jose, Calif.-based research firm. "Just look at the way Windows 95 was rolled out - very controlled, very orchestrated," he says, contrasting it with the "Wild West, entrepreneurial" culture of Silicon Valley.

The entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley embrace an anarchic image of the Internet, a worldwide network of interlinked computers that they see as almost beyond the control of any single government or company. They spin a vision of the world in which the average person, linked through the network by a TV set or computer can access everything from movies to the contents of the Harvard University library.

The promise of such a world has gained credibility during the last year with the development of Web "browsers," which opened the Internet to tens of millions of users.

The Web is a subsection of the Internet, adding splashy graphics to plain text, along with a software system that allows the 'Web surfer' to zip from one information site to another. The Web, and the companies involved in exploiting its commercial potential as a vast marketplace, has caught the imagination of Wall Street and home-computer users.

"What it comes down to now is who is going to be best at presenting a vision for the Internet," says Mr. Weiner. "Microsoft has yet to express a coherent strategy."

Microsoft has pursued a far different concept of information systems - the closed, proprietary network that packages information for the consumer. Every copy of Windows 95 which is becoming the de facto standard for desktop computers, contains a link to its own Microsoft Network. Rival networks, such as America Online, complain that this amounts to a de facto monopoly, a charge being investigated by the US Justice Department.