SEATTLE — Computer makers who put icons for competitors’ products on the Windows XP desktop will also have to feature at least three Microsoft products, the company said Thursday.
The provision prompted accusations that Microsoft is backpedaling from its earlier promise to loosen licensing restrictions. The company said it was simply clarifying its policies.
The debate concerns what icons people will see when they turn on new computers with the Windows XP operating system, scheduled for release Oct. 25.
A month ago, responding to a U.S. Appeals Court ruling that the company acted as an illegal monopoly, Microsoft said it would let computer manufacturers replace the icon for its Internet Explorer browser with one from a competitor.
But on Thursday, Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan said that if the opening screen features any products from competitors, it also will have to feature three Microsoft icons — including Internet Explorer, unless the computer maker decides to remove it from the system entirely.
"There clearly will be repercussions to this," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Systems. "It clearly demonstrates that they are exercising, perhaps inappropriately, their monopoly power."
Computer makers will still have the option of removing Internet Explorer completely from computers and replacing it with a rival browser such as Netscape Navigator, Cullinan said.
If they do, Microsoft will make them include its Movie Maker icon on the desktop instead. Microsoft also will require icons for MSN Internet service and Windows Media Player on all desktops that feature competing products, such as AOL’s Internet service or RealNetworks’ music and video player.
Enderle said Microsoft had probably hoped the Internet Explorer concession announced in July would appease the Department of Justice and attorneys general who sued Microsoft for antitrust violations.
But several attorneys general have remained critical of Windows XP, and some lawmakers are calling on the government to block the system’s release over concerns that Microsoft continues to abuse its monopoly power.
"Now they’re backpedaling and they’re kind of undoing what it is they did so they can protect their competitive position," Enderle said.
Rival Internet service provider AOL Time Warner, which recently struck a deal with computer maker Compaq for exclusive placement of its Internet service on Compaq desktops, fumed at Microsoft’s decision.
"This reveals the July 11 announcement of flexibility to be truly a farce," AOL Time Warner Vice President John Buckley said. "Microsoft’s message to consumers, computer makers and the government is, ‘We own the desktop and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ "
Cullinan said Microsoft still hopes computer makers will choose Microsoft’s preferred option — a desktop free of all icons. If they don’t, he said, the company will simply go back to the policies it had with previous versions of Windows, in which computer makers were free to feature competitors’ products but were forced to feature Microsoft products as well.
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