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Even if it were, many — if not most — businesses use software that runs only on Windows. Switching browsers is a dubious proposition as well. ALA has documented the troubles with Netscape Navigator 4. Even if it were, most users are still stuck on a 56 Kbps modem, so downloading and installing a new browser is time-consuming and intimidating.
Opera 5 includes ads in the free version; to eliminate them, users must pay — something they are unlikely to do when Internet Explorer remains free. Moreover, many sites the average user relies on function erratically in both Netscape 6 and Opera 5.
She just wants to use her online banking service today. In any event, switching browsers only eliminates the smart tags from web pages. The technology will be built directly into Windows XP. Even when used in Office applications, if the user is connected to the Internet, smart tags can contact an external server when the user clicks on them. Moreover, while smart tags are currently only enabled in Office XP and Internet Explorer 6, there is nothing stopping Microsoft from enabling them throughout Windows, perhaps even in third party applications.
This is a serious concern for those using Windows NT, 9x and ME since all future Windows releases will be based on significantly-different Windows code. If smart tags are a Bad Thing, then they should be stopped sooner rather than later.
If we want to keep the camel out of the tent, we had best kick his nose out now. The question is, might we be better off having a camel around to fetch our newspaper? In Office XP the only smart tag implementation currently in general release , smart tags are a pretty hip idea.
For example, a smart tag from Adobe might include a list of words like: Rest your cursor over the underlined word and a button will appear the smart tag icon , hovering over the page next to the word. Smart tags can be set up to recognize words that match an expression, rather than a simple list.
For example, the Lexis-Nexis smart tag recognizes the names of court cases, like Roe v. If you type that text into Word , and have the Lexis-Nexis smart tag installed and enabled, a smart tag will offer the option to turn the text Roe v. Wade into a full legal citation: As a former law student, I can attest to the value of something like this.
Better yet, smart tags can be coded to automate custom applications. The possibilities are almost limitless. So long as smart tags are confined to Office, things appear fine though there may still be cause for concern; more on that later , However, Microsoft has added smart tag recognition to Internet Explorer 6 as well. Hover over them and click the smart tag button, and the smart tag will helpfully offer to launch the Microsoft Office site in a new instance of Internet Explorer.
Gross, adding links to web pages may create a derivative work by modifying the content of the original. If they do, Microsoft may be held legally accountable.
That may sound a bit far-fetched, but keep in mind that while you or I may discern dotted purple smart tags from garden variety hyperlinks, most users may not.
Most of my students have trouble with the distinction between the operating system and an application, let alone the distinction between an underline created by the browser because the author added a link and one created by a smart tag.
They are simply grappling with unfamiliar technology. Moral rights are a bundle of rights that remain with the author of a creative work even after she sells the copyright to it. The concept originated in France, where it is believed that a creative work necessarily incorporates the character of the author. Unlike copyrights, which are a property right that can be transferred, moral rights are intrinsinc to the author and her work. They cannot be transferred. Smart tags, says Fraase, may well violate the moral right of integrity.
This right prohibits the distortion of a work in a way that would damage the reputation of the author. Since smart tags could link to anything from advertising to extremist points of view, they are quite likely to damage the reputation of an author insomuch as the user associates those links with the original author of the page they appear on. While another moral right — the right to respond to criticism — might be seen as permitting smart tags as criticism or responses to such, this reasoning is flawed.
Smart tags do not necessarily contain criticism. More, the right to respond to criticism extends to the author to reply to criticism in the same forum where the criticism was leveled. While smart tags might allow an author to link his response from a critical page, there would be no way to ensure that readers of the page saw the response unless the owner of the critical page embedded the smart tag in that page.
Even so, readers using other browsers or browsing with smart tags disabled would not see the response. Part of the appeal of the web is that it allows anyone to publish anything, to take their thoughts, feelings and opinions and put them before the world with no censors or marketroids in the way. By adding smart tags to web pages, Microsoft is interposing itself between authors and their audience.
Microsoft is crossing the Rubicon of journalistic and artistic integrity. Editors and authors no longer have final authority over what their sites say; Microsoft and its partners do. With smart tags, Microsoft is effectively extending its role from being a supplier of tools people use to view content to being the executive editor and creative director of every site on the web. How anxious will your clients be to spend thousands of dollars on a website that will be peppered with ads for competing products from Microsoft and its partners?
How do you, as a developer or designer, feel about spending days, even weeks, building a site that looks just so , only to have Microsoft pepper it with dotted purple links? By usurping our control over our websites, Microsoft is abusing its monopoly power. Looking down the road a bit, how long before Microsoft decides to extend that power even further?
What happens if Microsoft extends smart tags to them? Nor would he ever see dime one for having his lyric turned into an ad, even if I ignored his advice and bought a trip to Goa. Microsoft could even extend the technology to your desktop. Name a file resume. Any text editor will do. Other companies will run into the same sort of trouble that plug-in developers have had: The same large companies that currently control your TV, cell phone and PC desktop will have a major advantage in exploiting smart tags.
Worse, smart tags, can be executable code. The compelling ones, like the Lexis-Nexis smart tag I described earlier, almost all are. That means a smart tag presents the same security risks that an ActiveX control does; they can be spyware, trojan horses or even destructive virii. Decentralization listserv member Robert Scoble has informed that list that Microsoft has backed away from their original smart tag implementation. Putting aside for a moment the fact that, as Gillmor points out, the source for this information is an anonymous Microsoft employee rather than an official statement, it is still scant comfort.
For one thing, it begs the question: That still leaves Windows XP and Office XP — both products with monopoly-level market share — for Microsoft to load up with smart tags.
Since smart tags are shared among applications, that means Microsoft still has their smart tags on a majority of desktops. In Office, if a user clicks this button they are presented with a list of smart tags offered by Microsoft, some of which are from Microsoft itself and others from their partners.
That still constitutes a significant advantage over other companies and developers who do not have their smart tags listed right in the Office interface. Whether a similar button will be present in Internet Explorer 6 is unclear, but even if it is not the monopoly market share held by Office XP still constitutes an unfair advantage for Microsoft. This is true, but their documentation indicates it is the network adminstrator who must change it. Moreover, most users rarely change most system defaults.
Microsoft has attempted to allay the fears of designers, authors and developers by assuring us there will be a meta tag to disable smart tags on any page in which it is included. After spending days searching in vain for the tag syntax, Scoble pointed me to a page containing the Internet Explorer 6 FAQ. The tag looks like this:. So you just put the tag on every page you code and the problem is solved, right?
By requiring site owners to write a meta tag to disable smart tags, Gross says, Microsoft is unfairly putting the burden on site owners to prevent their copyright from being violated.
The tag may not even work. Sjoerd Visscher claims to have found an option in Internet Explorer to always display smart tags on web pages, presumably even if an author includes the meta tag on his site. The option may or may not be on by default — if it is even there to begin with. However, there is nothing stopping Microsoft from adding the override feature back in and turning it on by default in a future release, or even after the installation of a service pack, security patch or hotfix. Microsoft is quick to point out that users are in complete control of the smart tags on their systems.
Users can disable the smart tags engine entirely, or disable individual tags. Microsoft would like to paint this as an issue of personal freedom; the freedom of surfers to choose how to view the web. One Microsoft employee on the Decentralization listserv likens smart tags to carrying around a copy of Consumer Reports while shopping. He tries to paint the issue as a power struggle between publishers and their audience: Eliminating smart tags in no way prevents users from gaining access to alternative sources of information.
The Microsoft employee on the Decentralization list likens smart tags to walking around a store with the owner of a competing store — whom you invited along — whispering in your ear.
With smart tags, the source of the information is unclear. A more accurate analogy would be if the competing store owner went around and placed official-looking labels on every package detailing how much cheaper or better the products in their competing store were before you arrived.
While Microsoft claims that this was done in order to get more testers to use the code so they could get more feedback, in the case of smart tags Microsoft has been less than forthcoming on several details. In any event, letting the users decide is the right answer to the wrong problem. The problem is, neither of those is the biggest problem with smart tags.
The biggest trouble with smart tags is that they edit your content before the user ever sees it, and they do it in such a way that the user may never know. The user can certainly decide to get a second opinion while browsing my site, and the user has every right to browse with whatever tools he chooses. Second opinions need to be chosen, though, and they need to be clearly distinct from the original page.
Smart tags are not. Without digging around in XML files or options boxes, the user can never be sure which smart tag is offering which action.