Microsoft caves to criticism, drops Smart Tags

Microsoft has decided to drop the controversial Smart Tags feature from its forthcoming Windows XP release. The feature will not appear in the final version of the operating system, scheduled for release 25 October or in the new Web browser Internet Explorer 6.0, the company said Thursday.

The feature was eliminated "based on feedback we got in general from both partners and users," said Milo Schaap, a Microsoft product manager in the Netherlands. "That's a good example of why we, like any vendor of software, have a beta program."

The software giant has come under increasing fire for the planned feature, which scans keywords in user documents and offers links to related Web sites, many of them operated by Microsoft entities or partners. Critics have accused Microsoft of trying to leverage its dominance in the operating system field to beat competitors in the Internet sphere.

Smart Tags already operate in Office XP, launched in late May, providing, for example, links from company stock symbols to relevant information on Microsoft's MSN MoneyCentral site.

"We still very much believe in the possibilities and the techniques that Smart Tags will bring to users of Office and Windows at a later stage," Schaap said. "Having said that, we feel that looking at the user experience, there needs to be a balance in what the user actually uses and experiences to the needs and the demands by the content providers ... and we feel that we did not adequately get that balance between those two groups."

Schaap and a colleague, Product Manager Robert Fransen, could not say when or whether Smart Tags will finally be rolled out. But they rejected the suggestion by critics that Microsoft is using the feature in an attempt to bully its way into dominance of the Internet.

"I'm very sad that this all is put in that perspective," Fransen said, "because Smart Tags are an open and extensive technology. Everybody can write Smart Tags; we offer all content providers an opportunity to distribute their Smart Tags, and there is no point of us misusing Smart Tags."

Last week Microsoft officials in Europe said the company would offer only minimal Smart Tags in software sold outside the US.

"The reason why we don't put American Smart Tags in European products like Windows and Office XP is that they don't offer functionality to European users. There's no point in having an American phone number for users in Holland or wherever," Fransen said.

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