Walt Mossberg seldom editorializes that we have noticed. Mr. Mossberg is the tech columnist at the Wall Street Journal that we often tell you about when he has made positive comments about Apple or its products. He normally writes reviews, Q&A pieces, and other tip piece, but today he wrote a scathing editorial about a new feature in Windows XP. Dubbed Smart Tags, this technology allows Microsoft to offer you links to Microsoft approved content throughout the operating system. So, if I write a paper on the rise and fall of John Sculley as an icon for American business and distribute it to all my friends and family, Microsoft has the ability to offer each reader (in Windows XP, or Office XP) a link to a Microsoft owned Web site for every instance of the word Apple. Or John Sculley. Or Pepsi.
This "feature" is already in Office XP, released for Windows earlier this month, but Microsoft is embedding Smart Tags throughout Windows XP itself. That allows them to direct their users to Microsoft content anywhere in the OS. Mr. Mossbergis editorial today focuses on the idea of changing Web page content.
From The Register piece:
One key test of Windows XP will be whether its features do more to benefit consumers or Microsoftis business plan. Another will be whether the operating system favors Microsoft services over those of other companies. The company has said its software wonit discriminate against others selling Web-based services.
But even though Windows XP is still in development, Iive already encountered one proposed feature, in a "beta," or test, version, that shows Microsoft may well flunk both these tests. The feature, which hasnit yet been made public, allows Microsoftis Internet Explorer Web browser -- included in Windows XP -- to turn any word on any Web site into a link to Microsoftis own Web sites and services, or to any other sites Microsoft favors. In effect, Microsoft will be able, through the browser, to re-edit anybodyis site, without the owneris knowledge or permission, in a way that tempts users to leave and go to a Microsoft-chosen site -- whether or not that site offers better information.
One Microsoft official says the feature will spare users from "under-linked" sites. But who decides if a site is "under-linked?" Itis up to a siteis creators to decide how many, and which, terms to turn into links, where those links appear, and where they send users. Itis part of the editorial process. In the case of the Washington Post article, the editors included plenty of links but chose to list them at the bottom of the article and in a box to the side of the text. Microsoft decided otherwise.
There is a whole lot more in Mr. Mossbergis editorial, and we strongly recommend that you read it. This is a very important topic as it could utterly change the landscape of computing in the future, so please take the time to read this editorial.