Microsoft Bows to Pressure, Revises OEM Licensing Agreements
- By Scott Bekker
today changed its Windows XP licensing agreements to give OEM manufacturers the
freedom to remove some icons and other shortcuts from Windows XP’s desktop and
And in a major reversal, Microsoft confirmed that OEMs
could add shortcuts and icons from its competitors to the Windows XP desktop
and Start menu, as well. The terms of the new licenses also allow OEMs to
remove the Internet Explorer icon from older versions of Windows for the first
Microsoft had previously allowed OEMs to add icons on a
one-for-one basis – in which case an icon for Netscape Navigator could be added
to complement the Windows desktop’s Internet Explorer icon – but wouldn’t allow
them to remove any of its default icons.
Some observers interpreted the software giant’s latest
move as an attempt to ensure a relatively smooth launch for its upcoming
Windows XP operating system. XP incorporates many key applications and services
– including integrated audio/video media and instant messaging – that have
bundled with, or “tied” to, the base operating system itself.
“They’re really anticipating what they’re likely going
to have to do anyway,” concedes Rob Enderle, a senior analyst with consultancy
Giga Information Group. “The timing of this is to get it done so that the
product itself doesn’t get delayed.”
Many software vendors – including Microsoft competitors
America Online Inc. and Real Networks – have expressed concern that the tying
of such technologies, coupled with Microsoft’s draconian control of the Windows
XP desktop and Start menu, could place them at a competitive disadvantage.
Recently, several of the state attorneys general who
are co-plaintiffs in the Justice Department’s antitrust case against Microsoft
expressed concern over the close tying of applications and services in Windows
XP. "The tying issue is an extremely important one," Iowa Attorney
General Tom Miller recently confirmed to the Los Angeles Times.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. Appeals Court for the District
of Columbia upheld Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson’s finding that Microsoft had
violated the Sherman Antitrust Act when it illegally “commingled” software code
between its Windows 98 operating system and its Internet Explorer Web browser.
The court determined that Microsoft had done so for the purpose of maintaining
its monopoly market share.
In light of all of this, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
offered a surprisingly pragmatic explanation for his company’s action. "We
recognize that some provisions in our existing Windows licenses have been ruled
improper by the court, so we are providing computer manufacturers with greater
flexibility and we are doing this immediately so that computer manufacturers
can take advantage of them in planning for the upcoming release of Windows
XP," he said in a prepared statement.
According to Giga’s Enderle, Microsoft’s actions could
be just enough to satisfy the state attorneys general and the Justice
“It certainly casts Windows XP in a more favorable
light,” he allows. “The belief right now is that since the Department of
Justice said in the past that removing the icons is an okay way to deal with
the problem, that it may be enough. So you can conceal these things if you
want, you can replace them on the desktop with others – either of these may be
enough.” –Stephen Swoyer
Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.