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Where Does Microsoft Want You to Go Today? 501

blenderking sent in this Wall Street Journal story about Microsoft's new "Smart Tags" - auto-linking to Microsoft websites in any web page you visit. "From the article: "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." My web site is about margarita recipes....what is Microsoft going to do...offer a visitor to my site a better recipe on their site?" Another reader sent in a CNET article on the same subject.
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Where Does Microsoft Want You to Go Today?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    The 'unwashed masses', society as a whole, and corporations have essentially asked for this (and the other things Microsoft is shoving down our throat).

    When we didn't get up and fight for the browser war and let Netscape die, we asked for browser issues like this. Some knew they were coming. Come on - who didn't see this sort of thing coming when the anti-trust issues related to Netscape were raised in the first place?

    I administer a large number of web servers including one that hosts a bunch of WebCT courses. I got a message from WebCT the other day, "Netscape 6.x will not be supported by WebCT..." And this is distance-learning/educational software! If you can't use Netscape/Mozilla on a college campus, where can you use it effectively?!?!

    The only thing we can do now, to win back the web a little (maybe), is a grass-roots campaign to support Mozilla. The only thing is, Mozilla may not actually be better than IE...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2001 @06:17AM (#169213)
    And I want to see what they would do with the word "DeCSS" on a site and what MPAA would do about that ;D
  • That's why it's absolutely essential that the de-facto browser(s) that most people use be Open Source. There will be none of this crap, and we can prove it.

    Long live Mozilla and Konqueror!

  • ... that every truly MORONIC invention of Microsoft's has been preceded by something belying its stupidity?

    ?Smart Quotes?

    the "Intellamouse" (which is actually okay, but still, it's just a damned mouse...)

    And now "Smart Tags", which may very well get them sued.

    If Microsoft had invented "Smartmedia", it'd be 2 feet long, 3 feet wide, and weigh several hundred pounds.

    - A.P.

    Forget Napster. Why not really break the law?

  • by Tony Shepps ( 333 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @07:31AM (#169216) Homepage

    Note: I'm an IE6 tester, so I believe I'm reasonably qualified to comment without fear of spreading FUD.

    That's funny, I would have assumed that as an IE6 tester you are incapable of commenting WITHOUT spreading FUD. :)

    IMO, they are a pain, but easily disabled.

    Isn't life short enough without having to disable painful features?

    Take it to the extreme: if my car was delivered with a "self-destruct" button, but with a manual explaining how to disable it, I doubt I would even get in the car, much less buy it and drive it for years and trust it with my life. The company could say "but some of our users need a self-destruct feature!" But that's not the point is it?

    If a feature is a pain and the software is not delivered with the "feature" disabled, that company does not have your best interests at heart. The repercussions of having a monopolist company blatantly not care about its users are very great indeed. I hope you put that in your test report :)

  • Thank goodness, I [] am unaffected by this. I [] don't write about sports [] on my web []site at all. It's primarily for my recording studio [], Airwindows [].

    (end sarcasm. And I'd just like to say- holy shit!! Look what you can do when you win the browser war. Who wants to bet that the way they'll appease CNet and the like is by _selling_ 'smart link' access to common english words? Talk about seizing a choke hold on communication and mindspace. This is so far out of line it makes my head spin. It potentially plays merry hell with _my_ trademarks and IP.)

  • Oh yeah- and if this sort of thing bothers you, you should quit using Internet Exploder and get a real browser [].

    (see how it works? Doesn't it look like I meant that as a link? _Surely_ that indicates my intentions, how could it not? Sheesh....)

  • Whoa, whoa, hang on a second.

    If they can do this, it's not all that far from correcting regular HTML tags that happen to point to DeCSS, and 'fixing' them to point to the MPAA's FAQ.

    Far from committing a 'crime', Microsoft will be in the position of protecting millions of innocent net users from committing crimes! :P even if you WANT to, you won't be able to get to 'illegal' content. It's not such a big stretch.

  • by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @12:45PM (#169220) Homepage Journal
    They already do change links, just not this way yet.

    Their stuff takes addresses like and turns the // into a /, making a corrupted live web link out of the text, while continuing to show it as a double slash visibly.

    It's a very small step to having IE automatically change all links on the browser side if it doesn't like them. In fact, there's a logical argument for identifying links that are also represented by Smart Links, and interceding, either going instead to the smart link or popping up an annoy box, which would look like this:

    The link you have chosen could refer to several different destinations. Please choose one. 78 57?etc?etc
    Your Digital Rights

    Use Smart Tags ( )

    Beginning to get the picture, folks? _All_ they have to do is start popping up 'choices' to go to Smart Tags at every available opportunity, including 'extra choices' for existing addresses. This, I think, would not be deemed illegal. Then it's just a matter of a 'just use the smart tags' option to stop the annoyance, and they're home free, with the user having 'chosen' to not even honor existing HTML tags out there on the net. It is _trivial_ to jockey people into the position of 'choosing' to use Microsoft's idea of what links should point to, and at that point they have a lock on electronic commerce that is truly impressive.

    I would be really, really surprised if they were too dumb to realise this. Few people consider them stupid. I think they're completely aware of the whole sequence of events I've outlined. It's the logical next expansion IF .NET works- because if .NET works, they still have to expand more. It's a shrewd move that shows great foresight. The fact that the implications are shocking does not, I think, worry them one bit.

  • It sounds to me like it would be pretty easy for the end user to distinguish between links that I've put there, and links that the browser generated to sites that MS thinks I might be interested in.

    You are assuming way too much clue on behalf of the user. I frequently get email sent from a form on my web page where the senders ask questions about completely different websites apparently thinking that my site is the same as these other sites they were on because they followed a link from those sites and ended up on mine. These people aren't going to know what the difference between a regular link and a squiggly purple link signifies. Unless they have been trained to know (and you should assume that most people won't be), how is the end user supposed to know that squiggly purple links have been added by the browser and aren't part of the site? This is something that only technically savvy people are likely to recognize (as pathetic as that sounds).

    I desperately hope there is some way to disable this from an individual webpage or for an entire site. Even for the "clueful" end users who do know the significance of the special links, I don't want this anywhere near my site which has negative commentary on Microsoft [] as it could totally distort the meaning. I don't want my site to be a springboard for Microsoft propaganda, especially since that is exactly what I'm trying to counteract on my site.

  • by defile ( 1059 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @06:04AM (#169227) Homepage Journal

    Oh come on, how obvious can they become?

    They have an arguable browser monopoly, (or at least close to it) and are clearly bundling in their content services, which are pretty lukewarm, in order to boost it's views.

    These are textbook monopoly practices here.

  • Junbuster does *not* modify the web content coming through; they're actually very insistent about this, for this very reason. Junkbuster works elsewher, simply not permitting certain things, specified by the user, to be loaded in the first place. They don't even distribute a functional blockfile themselves . .


  • by Sabalon ( 1684 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @06:00AM (#169229)
    I think it's interesting. I'm reading an article and what to learn more about something-I just click on a smart link. I don't even have to visit my local library to learn more (Voyagers :)

    However, it sounds like the way it is being done is to sell a word to the highest bidder. I want to learn more about SCSI - instead of being taken to the SCSI FAQ, I get sent to Adaptec's product site. If I wanna learn about what a database is, I'm sure I won't be going to Oracle's site, but probably a MS SQL Server site. (And has been mentioned, I'll never click on a smart tag that promises info about goats!)

    My other question is where is all of this stored? Am I going to be (unknowingly) constantly downloading new smart-tag definitions to my hard drive ->,
    and how much more time is it going to take for a web page to load?

    Also, can I hack the database once it is on my machine, so I can send Linux to, not :)
  • Excellent post, but you forgot to work in the words "exciting" and "great new".

    Personally, any time in the last two years that I have heard those phrases I have checked my wallet and double-locked my door.

  • I'd assume that Office XP has everything scriptable, just like current versions of Office, but with possibly a slightly better authentication scheme (I haven't messed with it yet). Wouldn't be be fairly interesting if someone wrote a nice script to associate every word in the dictionary (assuming it's a script-accessible object) with I mean, I doubt anyone would click on it, at least not more than once. But I can guarantee it'd be damn annoying to see every word have the SmartTag icon hanging there.
  • This idea is would not be as bad if it was completly under the control of the user. If I could select a word on a page and then add an annotation (some comments, perhaps links to other things) and then when I got to the same word/phrase elsewhere I could see my annotation.

    It would be even cooler if I could share my annotations with other people.

    Of course MS does not seem to care much about the user here - rather it's trying to build another marketing "bring-in-the-eyeballs" tool.


    P.S. Look up "web annotations" on Google - there is plenty of research along these lines.

  • LOL

    Like the users will actually *use* this kind of a feature -- most of them don't even change the "home" page their browser goes to when it is opened.

  • IE is simply filtering out certain key words, and providing links to more information on those terms.

    ...Information provided *by* MS, *for* MS's benefit.

    A rep from MS is quoted in the article (paraphrased by me) that the "Smart Link" feature would be used to link to Microsoft websites and other sites "blessed" by MS.

    This means that MS is *adding* their own content to someone else's webpage, without their permission, and most probably without their knowledge.

    While I agree that a context-sensitive keyword search could be a helpful addition to any web browser, I highly suspect any such "feature" that is controlled by an entity whose primary objective is to make money. Not just MS - but what if AOL decided to do something similar, but link to AOL/TW websites and services?

    Leveraging their monopoly this way seems a BLATANT abuse of their position. It's wishful thinking that the DoJ will pick up on this and use it in their case, however.

    Now, if the links themselves were controlled by a non-profit organization, or even an educational one, and the only information provided was definitions of terms (no advertizing - no plugging of "blessed" websites, etc...) - I don't think I would have a problem with it. In fact, I would welcome such a feature. But don't let it intrude on a webpage's look and feel - instead, make it a right-click option (highlight a word, right-click, and one of the options is "Look up definition", for example) so that people using text and words in artistic ways (like poetry) could retain their expression, in the way they envisioned it, while still allowing on-demand access to the new feature.

    Perhaps even have the source of the definitions be user-configurable - for example, being able to choose to look up a definition from a Mirriam-Webster dictionary, then cross-reference it with the Oxford English definition of the same word...but it would have to have a *sane* default setting, because many users wouldn't change it, even if they could...

    The more I think about this, the more it sounds like a feature that should be handled by a browser plug-in, rather than by the browser itself - make the feature "opt-in" rather than "opt-out".

    Now I'm just rambling =)
  • by Genom ( 3868 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @06:07AM (#169241)
    Most of them will not know, or do not care if the sites are Microsoft-influenced. After all, they probably use almost only Microsoft-products already, and this will misguide them even more.

    Therein lies the problem with this.

    Let's say that for speed, the "database" of words to "smart link" is stored on the client side, by the OS, in some specially encrypted, obscured DLL file (along with a couple "crucial" system components to make sure clued users don't simply remove it.

    Let's say one of the links points to a page on MS's website.

    Let's say MS does a drastic redesign of their website, and moves a lot of stuff around, including the page that one of these "smart links" links to.

    So, Joe User is sitting in his trailer park home in Indiana (convenient example, it could just as well be a $50 a day apartment in the Bronx, or a fine $400,000 home in the suburbs of Chicago for all I care), browsing on his MSN dial-up connection. He comes across your website (by some strange sequence of events), which is all text, with no links whatsoever.

    Joe User, however, sees a plethora of links -- "smart links" -- which he proceeds to click on. He gets errors. Joe User isn't happy. Joe User sees an email link on the main page of your site - and (in an astonishing show of insight for a non-clued user) emails you:

    "I was on your page, and you have broken links. It makes me angry. Fix them!"

    You look at his email and go "what?" - and after checking the validity of all the links in your code, are still perplexed - you email him back:

    "Could you be a bit more specific about the links you say are broken? I've verified all the links on my pages as being valid - so I'm not sure what specific problems you've run into."

    He doesn't understand - the links are right there in front of him, plain as day.

    ...You get the point. People are accustomed to the web working in a certain way. Webpages have links in them that go to other webnpages. If a ink is broken, email the site operator. They're not going to understand this new "smart link" thing. They're going to use it, but they're going to believe it comes from the page itself, not from their browser.

    Remember that it is the lesser knowledgeable (in terms of internet) who use most of the web.

    Actually, they use the *least* of the web, but produce the most *traffic* =) Check out the story /. had here a couple days ago about a handful of sites getting 80+ percent of hits =)
  • ok, let's say "aryan cracker" codes up a virus to add links to his hate/violence/porn filled site ( keyed on the words "white," "jewish," and "kumquat." now let's say he sends it out via email from a forged address: let's say a user at and another at (located some place in the usa where is considered to violate some local standard or another).

    now browses with xp-ie. the link has nazi literature on it, so violates french law. who does she sue? perhaps she never browses the site with another browser - perhaps her solicitor has gotten the same virus - the owner of will have to defend themselves.

    this also applies to browsing the porn on violates local obscenity standards. who does he sue? how does he know, and must the operators of come and defend themselves for something they never did?

    and if those sites - kumquat and paint - have to defend themselves, do they have recourse against microsoft?
  • I'm looking at a pornwebsite, and get all these silly links on sex ed, breastcancer and venereal diseases.
    Yeah, they should be providing links to RSI advice! Oh, and a link to Kleenex [] probably wouldn't go astray... :)
  • "If anything, I think it will result in a flooding of MS support channels from people complaining that their browser is "broken" because all the words have squiggly lines under them."

    If they use MS Office they'll probably think it's the spellchecker.

  • 2. Smart tags can be easily turned off by a page author. There is a META tag that does this.

    This is still lousy behavior. Why not REVERSE that behavior, requiring a META tag for "Smart tags" to be turned on? Otherwise this imposes (not that M$ has ever done that before ;-)

  • It always amazes me how little some people do care about freedom. There are a number of reasons for why we need a active monitoring of the market to ensure that it will stay competitive and open to all.

    Consumers, in general, are not going to bother. "bothering" involves looking up information/spending your time on something they don't understand the purpose of. They would rather just sit and watch the N-th episode of the anorexic AllyMcBean

    Consumer lock-ins Imagine you had bought all your electronic hardware from just one manufacturer. The TV, the Video, the DVD player, the radio, the Stereo .. Everything bought from Bill's Hardware. Everything works just fine together. It was relatively cheap compared to other options. But now, even if someone else manufactures a new DVD player with options that you would be ready to kill for, you can't reasonably buy it. It won't plug into your Bill's Hardware TV, nor the stereo, and not even that special powerplug you got as a bonus foe being such a nice custumer. You are locked-in

    Monopoly, Economicaly speaking, a company is said to have monopoly position on a market if it can block/prevent active competition with either market position or financial power. It works like this: Let's say that some company is producing the perfect DVD player. Bill's Hardware starts selling it's DVD players way under manufacturing costs and even giving them away in some bundle-backs. When the new company goes under, the prises will of course rise again, and since there is no competition, Bill's Hardware can just blod-suck the marked dry.

    brant-typing is the phenomenm when consumers connect one producers product with a product category. Examples could be McDonalds and hamburgers, Domino's and Pizzas etc etc ... There was an interesting example of this here in france a while ago when people decided to protest against a certain dairy-product manufacturer by boycotting his products. Polls showed that about 60% of people were in favor of the boycott. But in reality sales of this producer's product's almost didn't decrease at all !! This is the power of brand-typing.
    echo '[q]sa[ln0=aln80~Psnlbx]16isb15CB32EF3AF9C0E5D7272 C3AF4F2snlbxq'|dc

  • So if you DON'T want them to use it, just stick in a tag.

    In other words, if I don't want IE 6 adding smart links to any of my web pages, all I have to do is opt out on each and every?

    Please pardon me if I'm still less than thrilled.


  • Just noticed this the other day, press release here or,1014, 514,00.html []

    Now, I don't know to what extent this can be used for customer control, but it is cool to be able to send email to someone saying a package has been shipped, with an easy link to the UPS tracking. As it is, I have to copy the tracking # from the email (if the sender bothered even to include it) and copy/paste it into the browser after opening up the UPS page and clicking on 'track'. Yet another example of Msft giving the 'path of least resistance' option.
  • for instance a reference to might well come up with a nice link redirecting you to one of the Microsoft anti-Linux tirades on

    Okay, this is a pretty good example.

    Hm. I'm trying to come up with a counter-example. Failing miserably.

    Damn, I hate that. :)

  • And if i write a nice disclaimer somewhere on my site which explicitly disallows this, are they still allowed to "change my site"?

    Okay, from the article, it seems this is pretty much just another "See a word, click it, get information" thing (like that NBCi plugin). They're not actually changing your site. And the tags appear differently from normal links, with "squiggly purple lines" that indicate a rollover target, then creates (on rollover) a button that will, if then clicked, take you somewhere else.

    It sounds to me like it would be pretty easy for the end user to distinguish between links that I've put there, and links that the browser generated to sites that MS thinks I might be interested in.

    Could you write a disclaimer that says "don't do this?" You could try. But would that block the end-user's fair-use rights to the page? How would that be different from someone saying that you couldn't feed their page through a translator? Both systems would be an end-user activity that adds value, in the user's mind, to the information already present in the website. If they want to be able to click on every occurrence of the word "grits," then, well, that's up to them.

    My big beef with this would be if the links looked like my own, or if they replaced my own links with links that the system thought were "better." It doesn't sound like this does that. The only other thing that I'd be annoyed with, from a user level, would be if I couldn't turn the damned feature off. Sounds like you can do that, too. Which, naturally, I'd do right off the bat, if it was shipped in default "on" state.

  • This was exactly what I was planning to say, but with 300-odd responses already, I'm not surprised someone beat me to it :-).

    They are going to say that because the squiggly lines are not links, they are not modifying anything. The HTML source is unchanged; they are not tampering with anyone's copyright.

    I don't know if I buy that one. I for one wouldn't like to see my site mutilated like this. Of course the proper response from MS is "use the Meta tag, then". I will. But that doesn't lessen the slimy nature of this.

    Let's be fair, though: Some lazy page writers might see this as a godsend and if there was a meta tag to ENABLE it, it might actually get used. Depends on the quality of the links more than anything.


  • by Delphis ( 11548 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @05:57AM (#169267) Homepage
    what [] you [] want [] a [] link [] to [] every [] fucking [] word [] ? [] ! []

  • You know Microsoft's gone over the line when even the Wall Street Journal says the feature is "something new and dangerous."
  • Gotta watch that "fair-use" stuff... it's extremely limited and does not refer to modification at all. You have the right to quote small snippets in a academic context, parody, and a couple of other small things, but it does not extend to arbitrary modification.
    Both systems would be an end-user activity that adds value, in the user's mind, to the information already present in the website.
    First, there is no "right" to add value to somebody else's copyrighted work. If your use isn't covered under the extremely limited fair-use clauses and you don't have permission, you are legally out of luck.

    The changes are not made on the server, they're made in the browser. Just because Opera [] allows you to zoom a page, is it violating fair use? No. A website delivers you some information, either free, or in exchnage for something (money, advertising data, etc.). At that point, as long as you're not duplicating it for others, it's yours. You can feed it through a program to do word-count analysis, you can feed it to a translation program [], you can feed it to a program which shows you how it looks to people with color-blindness or other vision impairments [], you can insert your own commentary on the page, you can rot13 it, encrypt [] it, delete it, etc. Copyright is about copying. If the information is delivered to you in a physical form (like a newspaper), you can destroy it, give it to someone else, etc., as long as you're not copying it.

    In fact, the web gives you even more options: if the server permits, you can fetch the page through another server which translates for you [], or processes the page to show you how it looks to a color-blind person []. You used to be able to have whole collections of commentary on web pages [], but the commentary was so useless that there's no money in it...

    What Microsoft is doing is creating a filter in the users' browsers which adds complementary information. In theory (in other words, ignoring monopoly practices and considerations), users have every right to use that browser to perform that task, or to choose a different browser, to perform other information-processing tasks.

  • by Zico ( 14255 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @07:50AM (#169281)

    A useful feature that will be used to promote one company.

    No, since other companies can come out with their own. The user just checks the ones that he wants to use at any particular time. It's actually a cool technology that other companies have applied to web sites before. It's especially great for something like financial data. Let's say I like CBS marketwatch, but hate their stock details. Well, I just create a smart tag which grabs stock data from Yahoo instead. Of course, now some dipshit at Slashdot will accuse me of "re-editing" someone's site. Get a clue.

    The amount of hypocrisy from people here is pretty astounding, though. (I'm not including you — you were reasonable about it, it just seems like you misunderstood it). Whatever happened to the mantra here that the web is for the user, not the web designer? That designers should quit trying to control layout and style, but should instead leave it up to the user? Well, so much for that, because it looks like everybody here now thinks that the user should be forced to accept the designer's every last whim.

    What's next, will there be an uprising here to get Mozilla to stop letting users use an alternate stylesheet? Someone should get right on that, otherwise those evil users could distort the heavenly vision of the web designer!

    Ahh, it's so fun to watch so many people's so-called principles twist and turn and bend past the point of snapping whenever Microsoft is involved. Old Slashdot message: "We're sick of Microsoft telling users that M$ knows best." New Slashdot message: "M$ can't give people this capability (or give them Unix-compatible sockets), because their users don't know what's best for themselves. We'll decide for ourselves what is best for those dumb users!" Truly comical...


  • by Dredd13 ( 14750 ) <> on Thursday June 07, 2001 @06:48AM (#169282) Homepage
    If you don't include anything like a link to "some other site", and when MS displays it, they alter the page to include links to "those other sites", haven't they - by definition - created a derivative work of your copyrighted web page? Couldn't you (as the copyright holder for said page) give them the cluestick application they so desperately need at that point?
  • If you don't include anything like a link to "some other site", and when MS displays it, they alter the page to include links to "those other sites", haven't they - by definition - created a derivative work of your copyrighted web page? Couldn't you (as the copyright holder for said page) give them the cluestick application they so desperately need at that point?

    I hope not, because then they'll come after us JunkBuster and Sleezeball users next.

    The page author has no guarantee (and shouldn't have one) that the user won't use their computer to filter, optimize, or fold, spindle, and mutilate the content prior to viewing it.

  • Could MS be sued for copyright breach on the grounds that the displayed page is now a derived work?

    Well, MS isn't distributing that derivative work, though. The user's computer is creating it, showing it to that computer's users, and not sending it off to anyone else.

    Personally, I think I'll just block IE6 or whatever version has this with a redirect to

    A good idea at first, but keep in mind that as some idiots start writing sites that check the user-agent and go out of their way to exclude non-MSIE users, then eventually non-MSIE users will start telling their browsers to spoof as MSIE 6. So you'll eventually be redirecting Opera users. Why do you think MSIE is alleged to have 80% of the userbase?

  • Do your arguments also apply to JunkBuster, Squid redirectors, etc?

    I run software that modifies most of the pages that I request, prior to showing those pages to me. It sounds like you're saying the people who wrote that software are copyright violators.

  • Remember that Microsoft's product managers are catering to the corporate types who buy hundreds of Office and Windows licenses at a time. Any time they invest programmer-hours in adding features to Windows or Office, they're betting that the features they add will induce those organizations to upgrade (and eventually the smaller companies and home users will be forced to catch up). So why does Microsoft think those customers would want Internet Explorer to have SmartTags?

    My first guess would be SmartTags' usefulness, from a suit's point of view, within corporate intranets. A company could add a SmartTags extension to all of the workstations on its intranet, so that, for example, whenever the phrase "health insurance" appeared on a Web page or an MS Word document, the user could follow the squiggly purple link to the health-insurance page on the company's benefits site. This would make the suits feel like have some control over their company's internal Web sites, even when they aren't personally signing off on the content of every page.

    Any other ideas?

  • Fundamental difference. Netscape's links are buttons in the browser toolbars and such. They don't intrude on the content. Microsoft's tags aren't buttons in their toolbars, they're presented as markup in my content.

  • My take: search engines don't modify my content, (Not)Smart Tags do. Indexing my Web site is fine, as long as you index what I wrote without modifying it. Going in and adding what the user sees as marking in my copyrighted content that I didn't put there is altering my work, which is not legal unless you've negotiated with me and gotten permission.

    Now if it's under the user's control, ie. the user and not the software is specifying which words to mark up and where to point the resulting links, I'll call that fair use just like annotating a textbook. If it's done out-of-band, ie. the user marks a word and tells the software to mark it up for them, that's fair use. But when the editorial control over what gets marked up and where the links point to does not rest with the person viewing my site and is not at their direct request, then that's a third party distributing an altered version of my work without permission.

  • by sterno ( 16320 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @06:34AM (#169289) Homepage
    While I agree that as a user I can choose to turn off these features or use a product that doesn't do this, there is a serious problem with this smart tags concept that "tuning out" doesn't solve.

    If Microsoft controls the operating system market and the browser market then they ultimately control how people look at information. By controlling how people look at information they can influence the message that an individual receives. For example, they could put in lots of links to good press about Microsoft anytime I browse an anti-microsoft article. Anytime I bring up slashdot, the word Linux might end up pointing to Microsoft's shared source philosophy page. They can, to some extent, control information and can therfor control thought.

    You as an individual make a choice to not use these technologies, but if large portions of the general population are using them, then that means Microsoft has an increased degree of influence over their thinking. You are not an island and you'll have to deal with the influence of this technology when you meet these people on the street and when they cast their votes. Just think of the potential for smart tags on:

    -Political campaign sites - Visit the gore site and see links to pages that are against gore's positions
    -Corporate homepages - wonder what sorts of tags might show up on sun's page through a microsoft browser
    -Anti-Microsoft sites

    Be afraid... Be very afraid...


  • They don't have to change the HTML (which is implicitly copyrighted) to add this feature. The makers of a web page cannot possibly copyright the finished, displayed product.

    Incorrect on a couple of levels. First, many webpages are explicitly copyrighted. Secondly, copyright includes the idea of derivitive products, which your on-screen website rendering most assuredly is. If what you were saying were true, you'd be able to take screenshots of sites and then sell them on your own site as yours. You can't do that; those screenshots will be copyrighted by the web site owner.

    So while many renderings of the final website exist, I most assuredly do claim a copyright on the final product.

  • So it seems to me that you're saying that I am not allowed to use a highliter in my textbooks.

    No, YOU are allowed to use your highlighter. However, Microsoft cannot arbitrarily add highlighting to large numbers of books as Microsoft pleases.

    I am now free to modify that document as I see fit (barring redistribution, of course), which includes having software look at the text of the page and auto-link other pages.

    YOU are not modifying pages. Microsoft is modifying large numbers of pages at a time.

    There's a huge and qualitative difference between you personally modifying your personal copy of a page and a systematic pattern of modification done by a third party. No use of the page (as you say, barring re-distribution) will affect revenue; you can add links to other pages to your hearts content and at worst, only you will be affected. However, when Microsoft modifies the webpages of millions of users to add links to Microsoft-approved retailers, non-Microsoft approved retailers will lose customers and suffer real harm.

    There is a massive difference in scale between the two operations and there is no comparision between your personal use and the eminently non-personal use of millions of modifications at a time.

    I can go down to Borders, pick up a copy of Finnegan's Wake, go home and proceed to wipe my ass with every page (front and back) of it.

    Such actions do not change the contents of the expression of Finnegan's Wake, obvious sick jokes aside, and that's personal use. You'll find that as soon as multiple people become involved, though, that the legalities change.

  • Nintendo vs. Galoob and most of the rest refers to home use; I don't think it applies because we're talking large scale systematic modification of content and meaning. I can't imagine a court buying an argument that having Mario jump higher affects Nintendo's free speech; adding links to some sites most assuredly does affect their speech.

    Feist publications does not apply. That case is about whether or not a list of phone numbers was copyrightable. There is no debate on whether an entirely original web page is copyrightable.

    There is no "fair-use" precedent for industrial-scale modification. For instance, you cannot print an annotated edition of a complete work currently in copyright without permission of the copyright owner. None of your referenced cases directly apply to the problem at hand.

  • Metaphors suck and prove nothing. Is your maid mass-manufactured and running on a deterministic program? Arranging HTML and making it look pretty == performing menial tasks around the house? What kind of metaphor is that?

    You can argue anything you like with a metaphor. No metaphor changes the fact that there is a massive qualitative difference between one person doing one thing to a work and a third party uninvolved in your transaction (artifical and totally non-legal creation of a 'maid' notwithstanding) making large-scale changes that fundamentally alter the meaning of the work.

  • You are aware that the user can turn this off aren't you?

    So what? They shouldn't be allowed to make these changes in the first place.

    Do you have the same problem with Alexa?

    Yes, and a wide variety of other similar services. I don't understand the line of thought that thinks that I must automatically agree with everything else in the world, just because I don't mention it.

    It is up to the browser to interpret how it is supposed to look. I can specify that your colors or fonts not be used, I can change the size of the page, I can even view it on a non-traditional device such as a PDA. My browser has been able to fundamentally alter any page you create for a long time now.

    Look != information. There may be multiple ways to render a page, but the information content is the same: The same text, the same pictures, the same links, and most germanely, the same lack of links to things I didn't intend to link. Even in what ways the stuff did change, it's well understood that different browsers affect presentation.

    But show me the (old) browser that changed the essential meaning of the NoAmazon site I talked about. There is a clear difference. If there were no difference, we would not be debating.

    This is not altering your copyrighted information. It is allowing the user, if he chooses, to get more information on words that appear in your document.

    If the document is not being modified in any way, then exactly how is the user getting this extra information? ... Give up? By the extra links added into my content. Therefore, there are changes in my document.

    It's one thing to provide a neutral service, like adding Google into my navigation bar. No problem. But when you cross into the web page, you are now fooling with my content, not the browser's content.

  • None of those things affects the content of the page, except running Junkbuster, which I think OK when used locally, but dangerous when used in conjunction with some globally maintained list. (RE: Previous slashdot story on MAPS RBL, which is a similar argument.)

    And yes, it's about redistribution. Millions of people will see the "Microsoft" version of the page. In every way that matters, Microsoft is re-distributing the page. That it happens to perform the computations locally on every system cannot be allowed to be an escape hatch, or all protections, logical and otherwise, completely break down. ("[Large cable-modem ISP] does not censor sites... it's just that every time someone requests a competitor's site, we make sure the cable modem rejects the IP address." That's censorship.)

    It's almost exactly like running a scam where you bilk people out of $10 at a time, and manage to aquire a couple million that way. You will not be charged under the $10 law, you'll be hit under the full fraud law. It's a general principle, both legal and common sense: Doing lots of little things can't allow you to escape from the consequences of the totality just because each thing was little. Election fraud, bodily injury, hell, even the cigarette companies only kill one cirgarette at a time. This isn't exactly an out-of-the blue kind of thing.

  • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @06:32AM (#169296) Journal
    It sounds to me like it would be pretty easy for the end user to distinguish between links that I've put there, and links that the browser generated to sites that MS thinks I might be interested in.

    Frankly, who cares that they can be "distinguished"? This is my site... I don't want them there at all!

    But would that block the end-user's fair-use rights to the page?

    Gotta watch that "fair-use" stuff... it's extremely limited and does not refer to modification at all. You have the right to quote small snippets in a academic context, parody, and a couple of other small things, but it does not extend to arbitrary modification.

    Both systems would be an end-user activity that adds value, in the user's mind, to the information already present in the website.

    First, there is no "right" to add value to somebody else's copyrighted work. If your use isn't covered under the extremely limited fair-use clauses and you don't have permission, you are legally out of luck.

    Second... a subtle but crucial point, there is a major difference between a "translator" and the described service. In theory, a translator does not in fact add value. In theory, the translated page is identical to the original page: Same links, same expression, same content. In reality it doesn't quite work that way, but there's no real benefit in whaling on the translation services because of that (and copyright law is all about issues of "benefit").

    On the other hand, a page that is processed against the copyright-owner's will with these "smart tags" does have real content change. Links are suddenly present that previously did not exist and were in no way created or approved by the page copyright owner.

    Even this simple change can have very real consequences to a site's message. Consider how the [] site might look through this feature... it's a good guess Amazon will be one of the featured services (they need the help), so now is plastered with links to Amazon whereever they mention Amazon (frequently), or products Amazon sells (look in the sidebar). Joy! Yes, that's maintaining the integrity of the site.

    And commercially, of course, Microsoft-approved sites will do more business then the non-Microsoft approved sites that have the links automatically added to the MS-approved sites, who don't suffer from that disadvantage.

    My big beef with this would be if the links looked like my own, or if they replaced my own links with links that the system thought were "better."

    Get beefing, because they are. They are replacing your lack of links with links of their own. Lack of linkage can carry messages to, like the way doesn't link to Amazon (or at least not much; I'm not combing their site for counter-examples), or the perceived initial slighting of the web by Old Media when their articles never included links, even when writing about the Web.

    Furthermore, bear in mind that if it's OK for Microsoft to do this, then it's OK for Microsoft to do other things, too. Not all of those other things may be so harmless. Expand your thinking a bit. Esp. from the point of view of copyright violation, if Microsoft is allowed to modify the intended output of the webpage in this fashion, there is no reason to believe that they won't be able to do anything else they wanted. And if Microsoft can do it, so can anyone else.

    In fact, there's no practical difference between this and censorware, either; with the power of page modification in the hands of anyone who has the technical ability, and by saying that it's legal to do this, you are granting anybody with the power to modify pages the power to censor as they see fit. There's just no difference between that and what Microsoft's doing, it's just that Microsoft is proposing a weak use of that power.

    Consider the consequences!

  • Perhaps the average user of /. will investigate technology before they pay for it. The average person, however, will not necessarily buy the most technologically superior product - look... it's got a big red sticker that says "New Version" therefore it must be better. We are a culture of mindless sheep.

    Computer Science: solving today's problems tomorrow.
  • I agree. I did a little more reading after my post and I discovered a few things that are very important to remember when flaming Microsoft:

    1. It will be an opt-in system (default: disabled)
    2. Web authors can include a meta tag to disable it (although I'd prefer if it were the other way)

    If it pans out like the document reads, it could be a useful tool. I believe, however, that it offers Microsoft too much control over the Internet "experience" that a user has. I don't think my words have any meaning, so we will see how it pans out :).

    Computer Science: solving today's problems tomorrow.
  • > Whatever happened to the mantra here that the
    > web is for the user, not the web designer? That
    > designers should quit trying to control layout
    > and style, but should instead leave it up to
    > the user? Well, so much for that, because it
    > looks like everybody here now thinks that the
    > user should be forced to accept the designer's
    > every last whim.

    I really do like the idea that Microsoft has here - automatic contextual links. The only problem that I have with it is that Microsoft has the ability to control it more than anyone else. Yes, as far as I understand the article, other content providers can distribute their own "CoolLinks" but only the Microsoft "blessed" ones will be included with the initial release. I fear that Microsoft has the ability to control what content gets linked.

    I think the most contrivertial impact of this feature (and what I would like to see) is the ability to see an alternate viewpoint. Example: you are browsing and come across a rant filled Microsoft-bashing article. When the article says "Microsoft implements xxx new evil feature into Windows" you could click that and be taken to a site that either impartially discusses the new feature or takes Microsofts side. This would go vice-versa: come across a site touting a new Microsoft feature, click on the text, and be taken to an alternate view.

    I always thought the World Wide Web was about linking related information together. This seems like another way of providing links between information. I just want to be sure, and I feel most people want this as well, that one company does not have the ability to control what information gets linked and how.

    Computer Science: solving today's problems tomorrow.
  • > If you place your cursor on the underlined
    > word, an icon appears, and if you click on the
    > icon, a small window opens to display links to
    > sites offering more information. For instance,
    > in the new browser, a Washington Post Web
    > article on Japanese baseball players was
    > littered with eight Microsoft-generated links
    > that the Post editors never placed on their
    > site.

    I'd like something like this. I think it actually gets the web closer to what it was originally envisioned as - a way of linking information together. This feature would allow you to get related information that is (1) current, (2) relevent, and (3) not necessarily a reflection of the author's opinions. It sounds great... until...

    > In the beta version I tested, most of these
    > links weren't functional yet, but Microsoft
    > officials confirm that they will send users to
    > Microsoft Web properties or to other properties
    > blessed by Microsoft. One of the links did
    > work: It launched Microsoft's mediocre search
    > engine, which is packed with plugs for other
    > Microsoft services.

    This leaves the taste of sour berries in my mouth. A useful feature that will be used to promote one company. I think it would be awesome if the browser cross-referenced the words with a directory project like dmoz. However, Microsoft is obviously trying their darndest to monopolize and control all sources of information on the Internet.

    Maybe the mozilla developers can implement something like this into their project. I think it is a really neat idea and it would be a shame to see a good idea closed up, patented, and restricted from fair and public use.

    But hey... that's the world we live in. right?
    Computer Science: solving today's problems tomorrow.
  • by eddy ( 18759 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @05:50AM (#169304) Homepage Journal


    If you want to automate programmatic access to smart tags, your best choice is to create a dynamic-link library (DLL).

    Security-implications, anyone? I've only browsed the light documentation [], but there's a risk here that viruses will have a nice little hook for gleaning information from every document you open in a SmartTags-aware program.

    Ah... how foolish of me to worry, we all know Microsoft is on top of that whole security thing. I'm sure they've thought of everything...

  • You are aware that the user can turn this off aren't you?

    Do you have the same problem with Alexa? Which does basically the same thing, looks at your page and gives you information on the page, including related sites. When someone goes to one of my sites, they get links to my competitors. Do I like that? Not particularly. Is it infringing on my copyright? No, absolutly not.

    What these 'Smart Tags' are doing is just moving the content out of another window. When you serve out a HTML page you are serving out raw code. It is up to the browser to interpret how it is supposed to look. I can specify that your colors or fonts not be used, I can change the size of the page, I can even view it on a non-traditional device such as a PDA. My browser has been able to fundamentally alter any page you create for a long time now.

    This is not altering your copyrighted information. It is allowing the user, if he chooses, to get more information on words that appear in your document.

    As web developers we have NEVER had control of how the content is displayed on the client side. I'm not a huge fan of MS, but this doesn't infringe on anyone's copyrights. It's just giving the end user another tool, and no matter how I feel about the value of the tool or the company who's providing it, I can't argue with that.
  • by Badgerman ( 19207 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @04:59AM (#169307)
    As I recall, didn't someone who created a site-modifier (to change the language of a site) face a lawsuit under DMCA? I could be wrong, but I seem to recall a time site modification sites were getting in trouble.

    This is possibly one of the most amazingly blatant examples of Microsoft misusing its technology I have seen - and that is saying a great deal. If this doesn't affect the monopoly case it bloody well should - though under the Shrub administration I have my doubts.

    As for this helping Microsoft, this is one Microsoft user (albeit rather involuntary) who won't touch XP with a ten foot pole. Now if I can only talk my wife into using Linux at home . . .
  • I agree fully. Imagine a mass-mailing from, oh say big Telcom A, and big Telcom B manages to have a lacky stand at every mailbox and slap on one of their stickers. And that's just for advertisments. I have couple of Poems on my Homepage. I don't want anyone to alter the appearance (even purple squigglies), because they look the way I wan't them to look. The publisher/creator of content (whether it is traditional or digital) should have control over their content, however the end-user will always be able to make changes (I've underline passages in a book). The difference is that M$ in essence can look over you shoulder and alter the content (yes, it is an alteration). Whether they use it initially or not doesn't matter. The fact that they control the entire environment makes it harder for average end-users ... everything requires an extra step (switch OS, download another browser, disable a feature that was accidentally turned on). I'll stick with my other OS and make plugs for it as often as I can!
  • I don't know why so many people complain about M$, and how "shocked" people are when M$ announces this kind of thing. If you're running any M$ OS at home, then by choice, you are accepting this.

    I run Linux at home and I am lucky to be able to run Linux at work too. I have chosen not to fall in Microsoft's grip.

    If you're gonna complain about M$, then do something about it. Convince people not to buy M$ products any more. Don't buy Microsoft products yourself. Or, by all means, switch to an alternate OS. No one is forcing you to use M$.

  • A while ago there was a program which allowed users to add commentary to webpages however they saw fit (was it called Gooey? I can't recall the name of the program). A bunch of foolish webmasters didn't like the idea of there being content associated with their page that they didn't write themselves and started complaining. We all sided with the people using the program because it didn't alter the original webpage in any way except for people choosing to use the program, and then only added content on top of it. People wishing to see the original were more than free to do see, simply by not using the plugin. That program has since stopped production as I recall.

    This is the same thing, only it's being produced by microsoft. An outside company is adding content to a webpage without the permission of the designer and you know what? It's fine. If you don't want to see additional content that wasn't originally designed with the page, then either get another browser or disable the feature within explorer 6. I'm very sorry that you might lose some business, but this is a feature for the consumers and to tell them that they may not use it is just as bad as if Microsoft told then that they must... there are options besides Internet Explorer, if you don't like IE, then get another browser... don't tell other people, however, what browser they should use or what features they wish to have in their own browser.

    If I want to change a font size for a webpage, I can with my browser. If I want to disable images, I can with my browser. If I want to set up a filter to block ads, or rewrite tables, I can do so using a proxy and my browser. My browser has the power to display webpages however I want, please don't tell me that I shouldn't have the ability to do so. It's fair use, deal with it.


  • Having looked at the Smart Tag SDK I can say that since content providers (either the specific site you are viewing or a dictionary or something) can write thier own tags to do just about anything they want, there is no need to write this technology off as flawed.

    OK, so the sample tags arn't massivly good and have a microsoft bent to them, but they are only samples.

    On a more technical note, you can write these tags either as COM objects, allowing complex database lookups for example, or using a simple XML schema to create website links, which is the part that people seem to be getting worked up about.
    The microsoft stock price example is written as XML and works very well. There is no reason why the mozilla developers can't support that schema themselves.

    I have been very impressed by MS's smart tags through out office and i think they could be very exciting and powerful both in an internet setting and in an internal setting. I'm sure that anyone can could think of a 100 good uses for these, especially since they can be used in word etc as well:

    match filmstars names and link to biographies

    match company names/product names and link to the correct site

    match rare words and link to a dictionary

    match customer names and allow the user to access thier account info

    match currency values and provide exchange info
    etc. etc.

  • by r2ravens ( 22773 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @08:24AM (#169316)
    ...and can be used for good or evil -
    Or: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction...

    How long will it be before this is used against them as some creative virus writer (not the ususal script kiddie), who is further offended by being directed to MS approved content, uses the no doubt present security holes in XP to write a cute little stealth virus that changes all those 'smart tag' registry settings and/or code? The potential is unlimited.

    It would have to propogate without any other change to the operation of the target machine using Outlookwhatever, or even as an activeX control using one of the authentic MS security certificates that should be in the wild by now (although may be specifically decertified in this new XP release.) People will click on anything, especially when all these new squiggly links appear unbidden in their web pages. A truly elegant version of this would install itself through a 'smart tag'.

    The modified version might squiggle-underline appropriate keywords with links to content or sites with objective or even anti-MS information - yes, even or pr0n, but that would be over the top and pop up on their radar screen way too quickly. The goal here would be to have every second or third link or so be changed so it could stay relatively invisible. It might be much like RTmark's :CueJack system.

    With the quality of MS tech support, even if the end user could talk to them, MS would insist that it's not happening. Based on MS's ususal fixes for problems of this nature, the said code would have to reside somewhere where it could reinstall itself after the user reloaded the OS (burning up another of their five authorized installs) or it would have to be so pervasive that it existed on many frequently visited sites and reloaded itself easily - web-bugs, steganography or maybe some version of the Ken Thompson CC hack?

    After all, .net is supposed to be an open standard, right? And MS will have all of your information...

    Just don't link to /. or any pro-open source sites - less is more in this case, ok?

    This sounds like a job for the fine back orifice team at CDC.

    Disclaimer: IANAC (I am not a coder.) This is total speculation and I don't know if any of this is actually possible. Smarter folks than me may know. It just seems a likely next step.
  • To the casual difference, how dfferent really is that "squiggly" link?

    I think the defining difference between what they are doing and what you described with translation is that in the case of translation they are only re-offering my own content - perhaps wrapped in an add or two, but (hopefully) still presenting everything I wanted presented.

    In the second case they are overriding some information you provided to generate new meaning - for instance a reference to might well come up with a nice link redirecting you to one of the Microsoft anti-Linux tirades on Now all of the sudden some page that happened to casually mention Linux is part of the weight behind the anti-Linux movement.

    Obviosuly Linix is an extreme and inflammitory example, but you could imagine lots of misues like PS2 references linked to XBox pages, or some other product linked to a Microsoft partner site. It's an attempt to redefine the web into looking like it's pretty much all an ad for Microsoft.
  • Slashdot already has lists of relevant links for articles - you really didn't mean to say that you preferred Slashdot build IE specific features into the site, did you?

    As for shipping with it off - that's true BUT meaningless. If the default startup page is MSN with a bunch of "click here to enable SmartLinks" propaganda, most people will turn it on. I think any argument that some potentially dangerous feature will be shipped "off" by default is a weak one since there are so many ways to get people either to turn it on or have third parties turn it on before it reaches consumers.

    I agree with you on the copyright aspect, once a page hits the browser (or goes through a remote filter of my choosing) I can do what I like with it.

    ----> Kendall
  • I really don't think it matters much whether the publisher or the reader is required to opt-in, although I expect if Smarttags were such a wonderful enhancment Microsoft wouldn't have much difficulty getting authors to opt-in ;-)

    The reason I think that either author or user opt-in is sufficient is that either preserves the principle of content neutrality.

    To date, browsers are format-sensitive, not content sensitive. They don't care what I am talking about, just how. Smarttags are a departure from this. As an author, they give Microsoft a mechanism by which they can alter the character of my work for most readers. Imagine I put the text of the Bible on the net; I may have my bible text linked to commercial sites. Imagine I put my employee handbook on my intranet -- I may have the handbook linked to job listings by competitors.

    Smartags requiring opt-out spell the end of content neutrality.

    As long as the default state remains content neutral, I have no problem with this technology. Ideally, the users, authors, or both could even choose the smarttag provider the way they can choose search engines. Opt-in only automates processes that are within the powers of authors and readers to do manually. The information delivery system will as a matter of course treat all content equally, except by an act of commision by the author or the reader.

    An opt-out scenario means that we accept that we must bear an added burden to maintain the integrity of our own expressions. It doesn't matter how tiny that burden is, we give up the absolute right to control our own works. Note that Microsoft on the other hand retains the right to control the integrity of its works by default, and does not share the burdens its competitors have in maintaining this right.

  • what i want to know is what microsoft might do next - if they feel that they can link words on other peoples website, what would they think was wrong with changing peoples link to AI generated "better" content, thus "representing another step in personalizing the Web" (to microsofts liking) as they think of it.

    As long as we're talking slippery slopes -- what if Microsoft decided to incorporate this "feature" into applications in other areas they control, such as MS Office?

    How'd you like to send a quote to a customer and have it linked to Microsoft's competive products?

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @05:36AM (#169328) Homepage Journal
    I agree that this kind of technology has its legitimate uses.

    However, I disagree with your assertion that this will not give Microsoft editorial control over other people's pages. Navigation is a critical part of web content. A browser company adding its own links to a web page is like a printer adding his own footnotes to a book.

    The critical issue is who does this -- the reader or the browser producer. If a user opts-in to have Microsoft's (or perhaps some other third party) links added, then it's a fair use by the user.

    If the user has to opt out, then Microsoft is insinuating itself into the content of other people's web pages.

    Finally, on an offtopic note -- if this "feature" makes it into the mainstream IE, anybody interested in starting a pool as to how long before it gets cracked and we start seeing goatsex smarttags inserted into Slashdot?

  • You're missing the point. In your scenario, A puts up a SmartTag. B puts up a resource for that SmartTag. C (Microsoft, presumably) puts "support" for that SmartTag into their next update. Now, all of those "links" that used to point to provider B now point to provider C. Microsoft is the only one that has this level of control because they're the only one that can update the OS.


    Aaron Sherman (
  • Any program can update smart tags.

    We'll see.... I expect Microsoft to be as willing to relinquish that control as they were to export the Windows/Explorer API so that other browsers could be integrated into Windows.

    Aaron Sherman (
  • I think you have the wrong idea of this...
    A better comparison is calling this like a "bad browser". It's not changing content, or adding content. It's changing how the information is displayed slightly (but putting small dots under some words) so that if you want more information on something, you can get it. If you're going to call this illegal, then call almost every browser illegal, for the occasional mis-displaying of a web page (displaying it other than it was originally intended) and we could go a step further, lets make looking at art illegal if you don't see it the same way the author does.

    Now yes this is extreme. No, I don't like this strategy, but everything I've read is such's being made out to be as if Microsoft is replacing other links to go to their site, or adding ads for MS.

    Anyways, if I'm on a site and there's a big ass word I don't know, it could be cool to click and be taken to, or encarta, or britannica, or where-ever.

    Nothing is all's just being taken out of proportion.
  • I can't believe, by reading people's comments, how many of you don't understand how this works. NO, Microsoft isn't modifying your web page ON YOUR SERVER, geeze. They're filtering whatever you send out through their browser, on the client side, as it comes in. Now, to come back to the issue at hand...

    If I write a text, a copyrighted text that is, there is no way at all that the browser could legitimately modify this text by presenting it to the user. What is scary is that MS's lawyers probably thought of that, and my bet is that they're going to argue that the links are not part of the content, that they are not the text, and therefore more links can be inserted with no legal implications. But we all agree that links are part of the content, that they express as much as the text itself. I think Microsoft is prepared to challenge that if the need arises.

    And that's not good.

    Oh, and by the way, the possibility that you can insert a tag in your page to prevent IE from doing that is not making this feature any more or any less legal. If the copyright argument holds, a copyright notice suffices, I don't need to put a tag to prevent every possible copyright-infringing browser feature.
  • Are you saying there is no differnce between changing the look of your website and changing the content of your website?
  • Maybe he gets paid by the post?
  • "Ah, but: nothing in that case is being copied in a form which the user can access. A web page is being published across the web and the user actually has the result in a form that they can save to disk and access at will."

    The smart tags are still evaluated client-side, I think. At any rate, it's nothing the user wouldn't otherwise have.
  • "Gotta watch that "fair-use" stuff... it's extremely limited and does not refer to modification at all. You have the right to quote small snippets in a academic context, parody, and a couple of other small things, but it does not extend to arbitrary modification."

    False. For modification, see Campbell v. Acuff-Rose or Nintendo v. Galoob. For "small snippets", see Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service Co. For commercial use, see Campbell and Galoob. Here's a good start: as elaw
  • I pointed out most of those cases to refute your lies about fair use - that it was purely academic and non-commercial. That's why I put Feist in there. It wasn't strictly necessary, tho.


    "I can't imagine a court buying an argument that having Mario jump higher affects Nintendo's free speech; adding links to some sites most assuredly does affect their speech. "

    What does free speech have to do with this? It's a copyright issue that you brought up. The question before the court was: "does it violate Nintendo's exclusive right to control the distribution of its games, characters, etc."

    "There is no "fair-use" precedent for industrial-scale modification. For instance, you cannot print an annotated edition of a complete work currently in copyright without permission of the copyright owner. None of your referenced cases directly apply to the problem at hand."

    Certainly, there's Campbell v. Acuff-Rose, in which an entire work was reproduced commercially, millions of copies, but altered. That's a precedent. Then, there's Nintendo v. Galoob, which *does* apply - it is a large-scale (many Game Genies were sold) set of modifications to Nintendo's games. Just as in this case, the modification is done on the client side. It's no different than Junkbuster - but end users will like it far less :).
  • "For a game genie to have those effects on a game, you would have to go to the store, buy a game genie, place it in your console, then place the cartridge onto the console, not exactly something that could happen without the end user knowing about it."

    To be fair, attribution is one of the exclusive rights protected by copyright. This could infringe that, except that HTML does not really specify presentation - even CSS won't change how a blind user hears a page. So, an author cannot expect that her page will appear exactly as she expects to the audience. Does Junkbuster violate the right of attribution?

    Galoob was decided for two reasons: 1. There was no infringement because there was no copy created in a fixed form, and thus no derivative work. 2. Users of GG were fair users - their purposes (not Galoob's) were non-commercial, not significant in alteration, and not distributed. This applies to smart tags (or Junkbuster) instead.

    Besides, MS isn't forcing you to use this (it can be turned off). They are forcing you to use IE6, in that they have a monopoly, about which see DOJ v. MS.
  • by prizog ( 42097 ) <> on Thursday June 07, 2001 @06:29AM (#169348) Homepage
    Could MS be sued for copyright breach on the grounds that the displayed page is now a derived work?

    Sure. The plaintiff would lose, tho. See Nintendo v. Galoob []. Galoob made a product that altered the reactions, graphics, and gameplay of Nintendo's copyrighted stuff. Nintendo sued for copyright infringement, and lost. The product? Game Genie.
  • Can someone explain to me why this is a troll?
  • That's right, I sent email to a couple of Post columnists, and the editor,containing links to the article, and the quote mentioning the Post. I wonder what they think about it?
  • I am pretty sure that copyright also applies to how things look as well. I sure as well don't want purple underlined words on my site - and that is altering how the page renders deliberately.

    If I want this functionality, then I will download it myself. However that isn't the issue. The issue is with linking to unapproved material (material I have not approved) from a website that I have created.

    Surely a better option is to give the power to the website creator - using cunning things known as hyperlinks! :) Maybe even "HyperHyperLinks", where the webpage author ca do the following in the HTML header: [!--
    [multilink name="linux"]
    [mlitem href=""]
    [mlitem href=""]Linux World

    That would take the power from Microsoft and give it to the web site author. From the above example, for all instances of the word Linux in the webpage, the browser will show that there are "multilinks" in some way (purple underline?!), and then show you the web site authors intended links. You could even have a site-wide hyperlinks.xml file, like the site wide stylesheet.css file that you can have...

  • by anticypher ( 48312 ) <anticypher@gmail. c o m> on Thursday June 07, 2001 @05:17AM (#169358) Homepage
    Do you work for M$?

    You need to read the article.

    These tags don't modify the web page, they are additions to what the browser presents to the user. What the columnist was pointing out was how micr~1.oft added links throughout every article he viewed on his paper's website, that weren't orignally placed there by the site editors. Most of the links were non-functional, but one took him to a lame micr~.oft site. Only M$ will have control over where these links lead, and will sell that link-space to others.

    My favorite line in the article
    ONE MICROSOFT OFFICIAL says the feature will spare users from "under-linked" sites.

    And as Walter Mossberg points out, that changes the editorial content so carefully designed by the website's owners. It gives M$ the power to add or alter any link it feels like, and the end users may never know they are being re-directed to M$ approved content.

    the AC
  • by babbage ( 61057 ) <> on Thursday June 07, 2001 @07:20AM (#169374) Homepage Journal
    This whole thing reminds me of why i stopped using winders in the first place (as i type this from W2k :(

    That one line both summarizes & refutes your point. Yeah, it would be nice if we could live in a purely Windows free world. I like the idea of putting "I don't do Windows" on my resume. But we don't live in a Windows free world, and most of us, including you it seems, don't have the flexibility to put that quip on our resumes.

    Your car analogy only works on the assumption that if all cars can work the same way & drive on the same roads, then any car can be used in place of any other car. But you know well that software doesn't work that way. It has nothing to do with being a lemming, so stop making pointless insults about average folks.

    Walk into any place that sells computers, and damn near all of them are going to have Windows installed. Most people have neither the time nor the inclination to switch to something else, especially when leaving Windows on there means being able to run the same applications and documents that most other people are using. Being a pariah isn't that rewarding to most people, so advocating it is an uphill battle.

    Rather than comparing operating systems to cars, it's better to compare them to something like public utilities. It's something that is always there in the background and, aside from a certain geeky demographic, people generally don't spend much time thinking about it. If the utility or the OS company makes a change we don't like, there isn't much that can be done about it. Sure, you could switch your computer to Linux and you could put solar panels on your roof & a windmill in the backyard, but really these sorts of measures aren't feasible for the majority.

    I'd love to turn my building into a gleaming solar powered home of the future, but there are a lot of obstacles in the way: I would have to figure out where to get equipment and how to set it up, and I'd probably have to get used to spending my spare time on maintaining it unless I can pay someone else to do so (not likely, I think). Further, I live in a condo, so I'd have to convince eight other families that it's a good idea, and get them all to switch with me. Maybe we'd all be happier afterwards, but I can't see persuading that many people to change, when just sending out a check to the electric company every month is so much easier in the short term.

    Same deal here. Skipping from present hell to a future utopia would be nice, but it's much more complicated than just telling people to abandon the present. Most of us can't simply do that, and advocating such things really isn't as constructive as you seem to think it is.

  • by Phrogman ( 80473 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @08:40AM (#169400) Homepage

    The problem here is that you are making the assumption that the average user *can* distinguish between a regular hyperlink and a smart tag. I think you are being overly optimistic about the savvy of the average user - I am certain I will receive countless emails from users who clicked on a smart tag on my website and when it was broken, contacted me not microsoft.

    The majority of users cannot tell you what browser they are using, don't know what an OS is, or what one they are using - and if asked probably get the two confused. They sure as hell won't recognize that there are more than one type of hyperlink on a document.

    I will also assume that smart tags are turned on by default - the average user will not know how to turn them off, why they should, or what the "smart tags" button refers to. The fact that I can turn them off via a META tag is almost acceptable - I will be including this in *all* webpages I design for myself, and recommending it as mandatory to all my clients as well. However, I should not have to include a tag to turn them *off*, I should have to include a tag to turn them *on*.

    The mere fact that Microsoft can, by virtue of their dictatorshi^H^H^H, er Monopol^H^H^H, I mean innovation foist this *feature* on the majority of web users regardless of what the content generators on a website want is or should be completely illegal. I look forward to the lawsuits I hope will arise - although since the US has such a pathetic Justice system at the moment ("The best judges money can buy") I don't expect anything will come from it. Microsoft has the money and they will no doubt win any court case they get involved in.

    Sadly, since MS dominates the browser market, I cannot consider including code to ban IE from my website without eliminating 98% of my traffic.

  • by webword ( 82711 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @05:12AM (#169404) Homepage
    Office XP Developer Center -- Smart Tags []

    Office XP Developer Center -- Smart Tags [] (Russian)

    'Smart Tags uitdaging voor ontwikkelaars' []

    All About Smart Tags []

    XML Cover Pages -- Microsoft Announces Smart Tag Software Development Kit with XML Support []

    CNET -- Smart Tags and Clever Features []

    CNET -- Smart Tag SDK (for Office XP) []

  • by jschauma ( 90259 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @06:33AM (#169415) Homepage
    Wanna take a guess which words in the phrase "I hereby deny Microsoft the right to add any links using their smart-tag technology" are going to be linked, right-away, to Microsofts website about how great "smart-tag technology" is?
  • by Nonesuch ( 90847 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @07:15AM (#169416) Homepage Journal
    The functionality you ask for- the ability to highlight a word or phrase, then add an annotation, and other users can view your annotation, is exactly what Third Voice [] did.

    They shut down on April 2, 2001.

  • by petard ( 117521 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @05:18AM (#169451) Homepage
    From the WSJ Article:
    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.

    In other words, if the "nice disclaimer" is in the form of a properly formed meta tag instructing Internet Exploder not to provide these "smart links", it will be disabled. Still, it sounds like a bad feature to me. Also, who would be surprised if there were a "bug" that prevented the meta tag from being read and conveniently went unfixed? I don't think I'll be using this new OS anyway, between this kind of garbage and the over the top, intrusive license controls. I also don't think I will derive enough value from their other software to justify the costs associated with the subscription model they will surely be moving to. If I can't use their application software, Windows will certainly have no place on my drive.

  • by fluxrad ( 125130 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @05:06AM (#169467) Homepage
    Let's kick this story back 5 years ago and i'll give you a little something to mull over in that gray matter of yours. This whole thing reminds me of why i stopped using winders in the first place (as i type this from W2k :(

    Microsoft is selling a product. That product is called WindowsXX and you have to live with the fact that if you buy said product, then there may be facets of it that you don't like (i.e. "smart tags" and all the other crap that's become bundled in with it). So here's an alternative...

    USE A DIFFERENT OS! I stopped using windows because i couldn't put up with a crappy OS and bundled software that i couldn't get rid of any longer. I advise people, in this situation, to either put up or shut up....USE A DIFFERENT OS! USE A DIFFERENT BROWSER! DO SOMETHING OTHER THAN BITCH!

    Let's put it this way. If 99% of the world bought Ford products, and Ford made changes to the product that no one liked, and yet, people went on buying Fords do you think Ford would give a flying fuck what people said and (gasp) change their cars.

    Nope. and MS doesn't give a flying fuck either because "smart tags" or no, people are going to go on buying Winders like the lemmings they are.

    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • by tcc ( 140386 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @04:57AM (#169484) Homepage Journal
    Control the Desktop OS - check
    Control the browsing platform - cHeck
    Control lobyists and juges - check
    Control databases and information - check
    Control what people WANT - In progress...

    ok they can continue on with their world domination strategy, fine with me, as long as it means one day they will control my mother in law, if that's not in the plan... I have the feeling I am being screwed somewhere....I just can't point it...
  • by tclark ( 140640 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @05:14AM (#169487) Homepage
    The SmartTags feature just makes it easy for Web Site Operator B, if he's running IIS/ASP or whatever, to easily insert a stock quote from A's site. That's all.

    Which is a blessing, since before this we had to resort to such klugery as hyperlinking. It's a wonder the web is even usable at all.

  • by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @05:56AM (#169488)
    I'm here to defend Microsoft against all the traditional bashing and slashing against Microsoft that happens here on Slashdot.

    People don't realise this, but Microsoft is a wonderfull company. For example:

    • Their products are designed to give the consumer the freedom to work in a wide range of enviroments - Windows95, Windows98, WindowsME, WindowsNT, Windows2000, WindowsXP
    • The quality of their software is excelent - DOS is very stable
    • Their prices are highly afordable - Windows 3.1 prices are at an all time low
    In this specific case, i think putting in IE the ability to transform any work in an HTML page into a link to a Microsoft site is a way of empowering the User by allowing him/her to for example click in the name of a brand and be sent to a Microsoft endorsed site full with articles to buy and "super special promotions" and "unbiased consumer information".

    To everybody out there i say:
    Please think twice before bashing Microsoft again!!!

  • by gowen ( 141411 ) <> on Thursday June 07, 2001 @04:59AM (#169490) Homepage Journal
    I'm looking forward to all the fervent censorship sites having all the words they disapprove of instantly converted into working pr0n links...


  • by veddermatic ( 143964 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @05:01AM (#169496) Homepage
    Yes, but only to Microsoft approved pr0n. Which I think involves sock garters somehow.
  • by _xeno_ ( 155264 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @07:11AM (#169507) Homepage Journal
    There's one major difference.

    A while ago there was a program which allowed users [emphasis mine] to add commentary...

    Now, there is a program that allows Microsoft to add commentary (if you accept that the redirected page is "commentary"). If the Smart Tags thing pulled tags from DMOZ [] that were created by users I'm sure no one would have a problem with it. People have a very large problem with the new links being controlled by Microsoft.

    There's a big difference between a community adding stuff that one would hope they believe are interesting to others (eg, Slashdot users and comments) and a large company adding information that can almost guaranteed be slanted towards themselves. That's the reason people have issues with this.

    It should be noted that while third parties can add links, it's highly unlikely that the average user would ever bother grabbing these new links, so it's highly likely that most users wind up with the default Microsoft links.


  • by nagora ( 177841 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @05:58AM (#169526)
    Could MS be sued for copyright breach on the grounds that the displayed page is now a derived work?

    Some peole have suggested that since it is just a question of display there is no more grounds to attack than if you don't like the fonts the browser uses but I think that it could be argued that the meaning of an HTML-work is changed when the links are changed and that this takes it into the realm of a derived work.

    For example, if I put up a page giving company x's products a negative review and your browser links 'company x' to their advertising then the meaning of my page has at least been confused (why am I advertising a product I'm saying I don't like?) and at worse totaly reversed, depending on the context.

    Personally, I think I'll just block IE6 or whatever version has this with a redirect to


  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @07:23AM (#169535)
    > Smart tags can be easily turned off by the end
    > user. There is a BUTTON ON THE TOOLBAR to do
    > this.

    Helps, although it'd be better if they were off
    by default. 90% of people never change their
    defaults; most have no clue how to, even if there
    is a button on the toolbar. If nobody tells
    them to push the button on the toolbar, they

    > Smart tags can be easily turned off by a page
    > author. There is a META tag that does this.

    Better; the fact that page authors can prevent
    Microsoft from modifying their pages is a good

    > Smart tags look nothing like ordinary links.
    > They are purple dotted lines uder the word.
    > When you mouse-over them, an (i) info symbol
    > appears. You CANNOT mistake smart tags for
    > ordinary links.

    You've never worked a help desk, have you?

    Chris Mattern
  • by purplemonkeydan ( 214160 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @06:14AM (#169564)
    Note: I'm an IE6 tester, so I believe I'm reasonably qualified to comment without fear of spreading FUD.

    1. Smart tags can be easily turned off by the end user. There is a BUTTON ON THE TOOLBAR to do this.
    2. Smart tags can be easily turned off by a page author. There is a META tag that does this.
    3. The default smart tags look for any reference to any company in MoneyCentral, and a few US universities. You click on them, and you get info.
    4. Smart tags look nothing like ordinary links. They are purple dotted lines uder the word. When you mouse-over them, an (i) info symbol appears. You CANNOT mistake smart tags for ordinary links.
    5. IMO, they are a pain, but easily disabled.
    Nothing to see here. Move along.
  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @06:20AM (#169571) Homepage Journal
    Microsoft has already been busted, years ago for providing access to, IIRC, Ticketmaster, but through a page of their own design, bypassing ads, etc. on Ticketmaster. Microsoft backed down, but the idea isn't exactly new to them to present others work as their own. Say you are typing U2 in word, it pops up links to U2, etc., which to the unaware look like a feature of Windows. The thought that it may only work for Microsoft approved sites or partner sites is highly disturbing. With W. in the whitehouse, though, Gates & Co. would have to be offering free abortions to get their attention.

    My web site is about margarita recipes....what is Microsoft going to do...offer a visitor to my site a better recipe on their site?

    You never know, it may contain sodium pentathol. Just drink up, smile and don't worry about a thing, ol' Bill will look after your best interests.

    All your .sig are belong to us!

  • by krugdm ( 322700 ) <slashdot&ikrug,com> on Thursday June 07, 2001 @05:35AM (#169639) Homepage Journal
    That's not exactly the point. The point is that if I create a website, which I have done (it's about Macs and Palm Pilots) Microsoft's browser could add links to the site that I never intended to be there. I have ads on my site directing people to where they can purchase Palm's and accessories. Suppose when MS adds their links, they take the reader to the Microsoft store where they can buy PalmPC's and Windows products. It doesn't matter what OS I am using, it's the browser that others are using.
  • SURE! This is a great idea - not! Let's say I have a business with a website. I sell some sort of synthetic-fiber housing insulation. Fiberglass is my competitor. Somewhere in my website I have a paragraph that speaks of the DISadvantages of fiberglass. Microsoft's new browser links the word Fiberglass to another website that trumpets it's value above other alternatives... That's bad for my business. That torks me off! This is a bad idea. -Sigmon
  • It sounds great on paper for the Internet to be more integrated with an OS desktop - anything that lets you get your data more quickly is a good thing, although the fact that MS will only use their tech for sites that pay them is troublesome.

    My real concern, however, is the security of Smart Tags. M$ says they just download static data, and I believe them - but I still worry about the limited power these tags will have. For example, will these tags be able to take control of your browser like conventional HTML? If so, it would be easy for them to send you to a site with, say, a Java applet or ActiveX control that really could breach system security. For that matter, could these tags "redirect" your word processor?

    My other concern is that even if the smart tags are little more than text files, with no ability to directly control a computer, clueless users may be fooled by data presented by a tag. It a tag advised them, for example, to buy a certain product or visit a certain website, they might do it thinking it was some sort of "official" advice from Microsoft, and therefor good. In other words, I worry about the same sort of mentality that makes users open email attachments without thinking even though they're told again and again and again not to do that, because the attachment either seems to be from someone they know, or a picture of a hot tennis player.

    I guess what I'm saying is that integrating the internet is all well and good, but I don't trust people who might try to pull pranks with smart tags, and I don't trust the average user. I've seem my high school lan go down too many times because of user cluelessness with email viruses that only work because an MS email client has such control of the OS.

"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982