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September 30, 1997


The Empire Strikes Back

A Staff Writer in Bombay

On the remote planet of India, IE4 is the Death Star, destined to crush the Netscape rebellion. The final episode…

Microsoft has launched the Internet Explorer 4.0 browser, the latest of the planet-shattering thunderbolts in the war to control the digital universe.

But for most of us who have not noticed, there is a footnote to the saga: 'The Browser Battle is long over. And IE4,' we are told, 'is to become the ultimate weapon in yet another struggle, the Content Contest'.

Sanjay Parthasarathy at the press conference
Explains Sanjay Parthasarathy, Microsoft's regional director for the India sub-continent region: "The surfer is interested in the most exciting Internet experience. Microsoft is going to make this happen by one, delivering 'the Web the way you want it' (read customisation); two, camping on the most important piece of real estate, the desktop (the Active Desktop, actually. Your browser is on it all the time); and three, shifting the focus from technology to content (Channels. We will swim to it in a minute)."

The Empire
    Strikes Back

The Germans
    are coming

NII issues
New CD-R facility
The issue is not about superior browser technology anymore, it is about how to get to what you want on the Web as quickly as possible.

These three focal points are at the heart of IE4. Ease of accessing content, the reason to be on the Web, is the new browser's guiding philosophy. It hits you in the face wherever you look.

Now, when the Web is the same the world over and so are the features of both IE4 and Netscape, why are the odds different in India?

The reason is simple. India is what North America was a few years ago and IE4 is going to become the newbie favourite as it gets bundled along with the hundreds of thousands of connections about to be given out by the private ISPs, waiting to take over from a government monopoly. (Yes. Vadar is in touch with the local chieftains).

That, at least, is the Empire-wide bet. A good one, when you consider that India is virgin territory, without the hordes of Netscape loyalists to contend with.

A projection, on which there is some consensus in the industry, puts the Internet user base at 70,000 by December, a super spurt from the current 40,000. By March next year the figure is expected to be 100,000 and by December '98, 200,000; about what Singapore counts up to.

IE4 will also be there on the desktop of every Windows 95. But most importantly, the content itself is being packaged with the browser. A clutch of Indian news and services providers are already pumping their stuff through IE4 'Channels', a way to automatically download information during off-peak hours and then browse offline. A clean advantage on the bandwidth challenged sub-continent.

Parthasarathy alludes to another opportunity in India. Because the credit card business is not very big in the country, there will be an effort to make IE4's e-commerce technology dominate over the credit card model.

To consolidate the India base further, there will be an effort to put up Channels in local languages too, claims Meena Ganesh, director, developer and Internet customer unit.

Is Netscape listening? If yes, we can't hear them. Yet, despite all the precautions, Microsoft could lose the battle in India if it lost the Web War itself.

Or again, will IE survive in India despite a global debacle as the Internet becomes an amalgamation of geography-centric standards, depending on which browser the local content developers pick?

Got any clues? Let us know?

(Note: Rediff On The Net is an India channel on IE4. It also distributes content through Netscape's In-Box Direct service.)

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