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Comment: An Apple a day keeps the Internet in play

Has Bill Gates achieved world domination with one bite of the forbidden fruit? If so it has come cheap, with a modest price tag of $150m, the size of the stake it has taken in Apple.

The initial reaction of the stock market to the announcement of Microsoft's stake in its struggling rival suggested the reverse. Microsoft shares fell when the New York markets reopened, while Apple's shares leapt 14 per cent. Investors accepted the argument, crafted with the Justice Department in mind, that it was in Microsoft's interest to ensure the health of its competitors in order to keep further anti-trust proceedings at bay.

The agreement will certainly help Apple, for Microsoft has promised to continue to develop and ship application programmes for Macs which in the past have been bedevilled by a smaller choice of software than is available for PCs, and a fear that even that limited choice would shrink.

However, the terms of the deal point to Mr Gates's obsession with controlling cyberspace as the real rationale. All Apple Mac computers will be bundled with Internet Explorer, Microsoft's Internet software. That means virtually every new PC that is shipped will channel users onto the Net via Microsoft.

Maybe the kind of independent-minded, Microsoft-hating computer nuts who tend to opt for Apple Macs will continue to go out of their way to install alternative software for access to the Internet, like the superior Netscape. Maybe they won't bother. But investors who share Mr Gates's view that the future belongs to he who controls the Internet should reconsider that initial stock market reaction.