For the past three weeks, my columns have described a do-it-yourself method of removing Internet Explorer (IE) from Windows 98, as promoted by www.98lite.net, as well as responses from Microsoft and my readers. In this week's conclusion to the series, we find that it may be possible to let a thousand browsers bloom.
One point I never see mentioned in the press coverage of the Microsoft antitrust case is the full variety of browsers we computer users have lost. Netscape Navigator and IE aren't the only two browsers ever created. As recently as 1996, at least 10 different companies were selling graphical Web browsers. Some of these companies were small start-ups, but many were well-known names such as Symantec (Delrina Cyberjack) and Attachmate (Emissary). Microsoft's decision to give away Internet Explorer for free hurt not only Netscape, but these other companies, too. It hurt consumers' freedom of choice as well.
The ferment of the freeware and shareware world, however, may give new life to the browser market. One of the hundreds of responses to my earlier columns I received was from a reader identified only by the e-mail handle Private Private.
"The real innovation in browsers is coming from small development teams," wrote the reader. "Companies like Opera, KatieSoft, and NeoPlanet are changing the browser interface more radically" than either Netscape or Microsoft. "Netscape just included a feature that allows the user to get stock quotes from the address bar. This feature was a year old in KatieSoft's product."
In this reader's view, Internet Explorer and Navigator are designed for first-time users: "There's no reason that a Web user with five years' experience should be using the same browser as my Web-newbie parents."
If you're ready for high-end browsers, try the ones the reader mentioned.
Opera Software's browser is at traviata.nta.no/opera.htm.
KatieSoft's Scroll program is at www.katiesoft.com.
NeoPlanet's eponymous browser is at www.neoplanet.com.
But the most interesting comment came from a reader who disagreed with just about everything I wrote on this subject. The www.98lite.net site states that you are able to remove 35MB of Internet Explorer files and have a faster, more stable Windows 98. In response, Steve Gray, president of Mercury Solutions in Seattle, wrote: "You definitely do still have a Web browser on your hard drive if you have the Shell Doc Object (shdocvw.dll) and the HTML Rendering Engine (ms html.dll)."
To demonstrate, Gray - whose consulting firm's clients include Microsoft - sent me an Excel 97 spreadsheet with an embedded 6-column-by-25-row window that can display any Web page. This trick is accomplished with about a dozen lines of Visual Basic code that call Microsoft's two System DLLs. Gray will e-mail a working example to anyone who writes to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more details, see the Microsoft Developer Network at msdn.microsoft.com/developer/news/devnews/marapr98/vbd htmlobj.htm.
Since it's easy to whip up your own personalised browser using Microsoft's DLLs, maybe Microsoft will release an "uninstall" program for removing the nonessential IE files in Win 98 (as you can do on a Mac). Perhaps then we'll see real competition in Web browsers once again.