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Thursday, July 26 12:01 AM EST

AOL, Microsoft Battle For
Control of Mediocrity

By Brian Briggs

Al Gore and George Bush fought for it in the Presidential race. The Detroit Lions and the New Orleans Saints fight for it on the football field. However, nowhere is the competition for mediocrity more fierce than in the world of technology and media where the Giants of Good Enough Microsoft and AOL Time Warner wage war.

"AOL is committed to providing internet service that is just good enough," said CEO Steve Case. "Innovation is overrated. When I hear our users proclaim our service is just bearable, a smile covers my face." AOL has broadened its reach into mediocre with its purchase of Time Warner. With properties such as Time and Discover magazine, AOL now has a dominant position in ordinary media.

Case also fired a salvo at Microsoft, "I've taken a look at Internet Explorer 6 and I have to warn people that it's pretty good. Much better than average. I can guarantee you won't be seeing that sort of quality in AOL version 7.0."

Microsoft was quick to respond to such charges. "Microsoft is committed to mediocrity. For years the Windows operating systems have symbolized passable software. We are very proud that MSN.com was voted the most average portal on the Internet," said CEO Steve Ballmer, "and with our new .NET services we want to redefine mediocrity."

"That's where a lot of dot coms failed. They tried to be too good, tried to innovate too much," said Merrill Lynch analyst Harry Vincent, "The secret of success is giving customers less than what they paid for, but not so much less that you piss them off."

Other battlefields include cable news networks where CNN and MSNBC battle for ratings among those who really don't care that much about news.

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