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AOL + MS = love?

Competition makes for strange bedfellows. 6/12 ReleVents hed: AOL + MS = love? dek: Competition makes for strange bedfellows. By James Mathewson

One of the curiosities in the age of megamergers is the way competition shifts drastically in a short time. Just a few years ago, Microsoft and AOL seemed to be perfect partners, having radically different markets for their products and a need for mutual compatibility. As a news story off the wire today indicates, they now are arch rivals.

They are the two largest Internet service providers, the largest providers of instant-messaging networks, and the largest browser manufacturers, among other competing interests. Yet they still need to partner to ensure that users of both Microsoft and AOL products and services have trouble-free experiences. Given the climate between the two behemoths, this is not easy.

AOL has recently done some stuff to tick off Microsoft, and trust me, Microsoft brass does not treat people well under these circumstances. AOL is on the wrong side on its Instant Messaging (IM) stance, which keeps a valuable technology in limbo, and keeps MSN clients from messaging with their clients in AOL land. AOL also now owns Netscape, the poster child of the antitrust movement, and has complained to the Department of Justice about .NET and its business-as-usual approach. Indications are that AOL will take up the antitrust fight if the states’ case is overturned on appeal.

I don’t often find myself rooting for AOL, but this is one case where I hope AOL is successful. I have written a bunch of columns about AOL’s proprietary IM product, ever hopeful that the company will concede and open up its network. I also hope it continues its fight to rein in Microsoft’s monopolistic practices. As I demonstrated in Monday’s

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