One key test of Windows XP will be whether its features do more to benefit consumers or Microsoft's business plan. Another will be whether the operating system favors Microsoft services over those of other companies. The company has said its software won't discriminate against others selling Web-based services.
But even though Windows XP is still in development, I've already encountered one proposed feature, in a “beta,” or test, version, that shows Microsoft may well flunk both these tests. The feature, which hasn't yet been made public, allows Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser — included in Windows XP — to turn any word on any Web site into a link to Microsoft's own Web sites and services, or to any other sites Microsoft favors.
In effect, Microsoft will be able, through the browser, to re-edit anybody's site, without the owner's 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.
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Microsoft's Internet Explorer Smart Tags are something new and dangerous. They mean that the company that controls the Web browser is using that power to actually alter others' Web sites to its own advantage. Microsoft has a perfect right to sell services. But by using its dominant software to do so, it will be tilting the playing field and threatening editorial integrity.