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Microsoft made yet another attempt to establish itself as the leading provider of the internet with its latest strategic update for analysts and the media at Microsoft Campus in Seattle.

Much of the focus was on the new operating system, which has been dubbed Vista (although VNUNet reports someone else may have got there first on the name). Previews of the new operating system on CNet showed an improved Start bar and changes to the search functionality.

There was also a great deal of talk about how Microsoft will, finally, do to the internet what it has done to personal computing.

For those who don’t recall, here’s a quick recap. Way back in 1993, Bill Gates was quoted as saying “The internet? We are not interested in it”. Apart from the big and controversial success of Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s history with the internet has been patchy.

There was the 2001 launch of a strategy called .Net, which no-one outside the programming community understood, and its 2003 re-launch, which didn’t really have a name, only confirmed this. Tech Review distinctly remembers the confusion evident at the latter event, at which Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates tried to explain to analysts from around the world exactly what .Net was. It’s actually based on some very innovative technology, but technology alone has never cut it in the business world.

Then came Google. Microsoft has fought back with a revamped MSN search website launched last year, but recent figures from Neilsen-Netrating showed its traffic actually fell in the three months to June 30 compared with the previous quarter. Meanwhile Firefox, the open source web browser, is making small but steady inroads into Internet Explorer’s market share.

At this latest briefing, Microsoft didn’t waste any time with trying to explain complex technology to financial analysts, and simply didn’t provide much detail at all, apart from some vague references to extending Office-related offerings over the internet.

They did however mention Google. Bill Gates once again conceded that his company was “playing catch up” on an internet phenomenon, but said that in three years’ time Microsoft’s search technology would be superior.

Search wars move into space - and court

Still on the subject of Microsoft and Google, the latest battle in the war between the two companies (apart from Microsoft being granted a restraining order against a former executive who was recently hired by Google) is over geographical mapping. Microsoft released its Virtual Earth service on MSN, a mapping system that allows internet users to combine street maps and photographs taken from the sky and even space. Google responded by promoting more heavily Google Earth, its “3D interface to the planet”.

Some observers, however, such as SearchEngineWatch.com editor Gary Price in the San Francisco Chronicle, pointed out that while they are technologically impressive, there doesn’t seem to be much of a commercial application for the mapping services. There are some synergies with the local search business, but satellite image mapping doesn’t come cheap. Surely they haven’t descended into a “mine’s bigger than yours” stand-off?

They know what they like

While Microsoft and Google slug it out for the title of net-geek champions, a report by Pew Internet & American Life project found that most Americans don’t understand terms such as RSS feeds, Podcasting and “Phishing”. Most however did understand the terms spam, firewall, spyware, adware and cookies.

Hot on the heels of that report, Pew issued another report which looked at the use of the internet by teenagers.

As ArsTechnica pointed out, “teenagers like the internet” was hardly a revelation. But the fact that instant messaging was more popular than email suggests their internet use might be evolving at a faster pace than many realised.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

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