The user is a rapidly evolving creature being defined by possibility.
opinions from the head lemur
[Posted] Tuesday, June 12, 2001
The Microsoft Internet - The Next Episode
Let me preface this opinion by introducing the Highlight . If you mouse over the yellow bit, using CSS a title box will appear allowing you to enhance your sites with bits that may require additional information or pithy comments.
The latest episode of Microsoft Knows Best is being previewed across the web. In yet another effort to turn the Internet into a commercial wasteland, Microsoft introduces a new "Feature", Smart Tags!!.
In the June 7th story in the Wall Street Journal, New Windows XP Feature Can Re-Edit Others' Sites (link below), Walter S. Mossberg presented a scenario of how this Feature will work. In your browser you will see words on sites with a purple dotted underline. When you mouse over them they pop-up an Icon allegedly to provide you with more information. Microsoft officials confirm that they will send users to Microsoft Web properties or to other sites in bed with Microsoft.
According to Microsoft:
"Smart tags are a new feature in Microsoft ® Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft Outlook® 2002 (when Word is enabled as your e-mail editor), and Microsoft Internet Explorer (when Microsoft Office XP or one of the standalone applications mentioned above is installed on your computer) that allows text to be labeled with contextual information while users type."
A little further on in Walt's article is this nugget:
In addition, Microsoft says, it will provide a free bit of programming code, called a "meta tag," that site owners could use to bar any Smart Tags from appearing on their sites.
I looked. It's not there as of this posting.
So over and above the creation of websites, if we are even concerned about standards, validation and accessibility, we will need to add code to every page to disable this activity on our websites. Gee... Thanks!!!
This article set off a firestorm of debate and critisism of Microsoft's latest bid for Internet domination. A few days later, David Coursey stepped up to the plate.
David Coursey is the new Anchor Desk guy at ZD Net. David, who in my opinion is only second to David Ignatius in using his column as an employment application for a job in the PR department at Microsoft, had this to say:
NOW, I APPRECIATE WALT'S CONCERN that Microsoft is going to use Smart Tags to poach. But there are several things working against this: First, as Walt's column reports, Smart Tags are turned off in a default Office installation. Second, also from Walt's column, Web site administrators can add code to each page that will turn off Smart Tags. Users can also select the specific Smart Tags they wish to use on an application-by-application basis, which cuts the potential for Smart Tags cluttering up your screen.
David ends his article;
Smart Tags are a great invention and deserve a fair shake. And perhaps now you, dear reader, understand why companies don't like their beta software leaking out before it's ready.
Beta Envy, David?
The Smart Tags Debate from both Walt and David's columns are both missing the point. The original column of Walt's was talking about the 'feature' in Office XP (beta)and it's potential for abuse. David defends them as yet another cool Microsoft Innovation. I guess David missed the Mellisa Virus.
I find this a classic case of misdirection for a number of reasons.
Over 50% of the folks surfing today have been connected less than 12 months. The idea and convention that an Underlined bit of text is a hyperlink that will take you places is an amazing thing. Microsoft wants to add another set of links which will poach your visitors, steal your customers and you will know nothing about it.
It is also probably one of the reasons that MSN is getting a lot of hits until folks wise up to the fact that they can change their Start Page.
Currently Microsoft says that this is turned off by default, requiring user intervention to enable it. For the sake of argument we can say that we won't use it. Well that puts to bed the vast conspiracy theory. Sort of..... What about the IE Browser?
The above statement says that this 'feature' does not work without Office XP. This begs the question, What about the IE Browser?
One of the ugliest things a professional web designer has to work around is the IE Browser. Upgrading replaces the earlier version. Testing your site in different flavors of IE requires you to preform some operating system wizardry that usually includes having more than one machine.
This opens the door for the following scenario. Issue a Browser Upgrade that in typical MS fashion, adds default support for smart tags in the browser. Now you have a captive audience who just clicked on a typical 'All Your Clicks Belong to US' EULA, which is typical MS behaviour and is in the best interest of Microsoft and it's trading serfs.
This will keep the hands at Redmond clean and dovetails nicely with UCITA. Smart Tags are a Select Group of Marketeers wet dream.
I will bet you that Smart Tags will be enabled by default in the browser that ships with XP. I'll also bet that the next version of IE will do this regardless of what version of Office you have.
Just another day for Embrace and Extinguish from Redmond.
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