Web browser war: soda with a twist Antitrust: In Microsoft's battle with the government, the software giant invokes the Coke-Pepsi rivalry. The analogy is surprisingly apt.

May 25, 1998|By Aaron Zitner | Aaron Zitner,BOSTON GLOBE

WASHINGTON -- Everyone knows Coke and Pepsi. Not as many people understand the computer industry's distribution channels and product lines.

And so, with billions of dollars in business potentially at stake in the Microsoft Corp. case, a public relations battle is emerging over the analogies used to explain the software industry and antitrust law.

For example, Microsoft has protested the government's effort to force it to distribute a World Wide Web browser made by Netscape, a rival company, with every copy of Microsoft's Windows 98 software.

"That's like the government telling Coke to put two cans of Pepsi in every six-pack," said Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray, echoing a line that the company is using often.

Because the soda symbolism is effective, Microsoft critics have tried to twist it to their advantage.

"Microsoft is acting like a grocery store that has 90 percent of the storefronts, and they will only carry the store brands, and they won't distribute either Coke or Pepsi," said Edward J. Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a trade group.

And a person involved in the legal action by the states said: "We view Microsoft as if they are making refrigerators, and with each refrigerator they include a lifetime supply of Coke." Under those conditions, nobody would have a reason to buy Pepsi - or, by analogy, a product made by Netscape.

As it happens, all this soda talk turns out to be more applicable than Microsoft probably knew.

The two beverage giants are in the middle of their own antitrust fight. This month, Pepsi-Cola Co. sued Coca-Cola Co. on charges that it illegally used its market dominance to squeeze Pepsi out of restaurants, sports arenas and soda fountains around the country..

Those venues often sign an exclusive contract with either Coke or Pepsi, just as computer makers have allegedly been encouraged by Microsoft to distribute Microsoft products to consumers rather than Netscape's product. And as in the software fight, signs are appearing that customers want more power to choose for themselves.

Not long ago, American Airlines said it would add Pepsi and Diet Pepsi to its in-flight menus, making it the only major U.S. airline to carry Coke and Pepsi products.

And if the government has its way, consumers would receive Internet-browsing software from Netscape and Microsoft whenever they bought a copy of Microsoft's Windows 98 or a new computer loaded with the latest Windows software.

Pub Date: 5/25/98

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