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Compaq keyboard skirts Windows

Compaq joins a club of PC makers to prove that a little ingenuity is all it takes to dodge Microsoft.

Compaq Computer today joined a club of PC makers in proving that a little ingenuity and some good luck are all it takes to get around Microsoft's desktop dominance.

Compaq announced today that its new Presario consumer "Internet PCs" will come with its Easy Access Internet Keyboard as standard equipment. The specially designed keyboard offers instant Internet access and direct connection to specific Web sites, effectively bypassing Microsoft and its Windows interface.

"We're recognizing that the Internet is no longer an add-on," said Mike Rubin, director of Compaq's Presario consumer PCs. "Consequently, we're fully prepared to help our consumers with the Internet experience."

The company also described a deal with GTE to launch a cobranded Internet service for Compaq customers. The PC giant will further be steering its users toward America Online and Yahoo directly from specially programmed keyboard buttons, it said.

The Houston, Texas-based manufacturer is the latest hardware maker to take advantage of Microsoft's relatively flexible public stance toward vendors' configuring the desktop, not to mention peripherals like keyboards. PC vendors Gateway and NEC recently made public their decisions to offer Netscape to their customers, as well as Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE).

Right now, Compaq and most other PC makers only offer IE as a default browser.

Also this week, NEC subsidiary Packard Bell said it will be using technology from start-up Pixel to rearrange desktop real estate, effectively creating a border around the screen called the "overscan" area where PC makers can offer their own software and Internet connections. Pixel's technology, called MySpace, will be available in upcoming Packard Bell and NEC computers this month, according to Pixel.

Although Compaq has not broken ranks with Microsoft by unbundling IE or making it easier to access Netscape, the company is showing some ingenuity in getting around Microsoft's desktop hegemony by offering users the option of bypassing the desktop when connecting to the Internet, said James Staten, an analyst at Dataquest.

"They're not going as far as Gateway or Packard Bell, but by custom configuring the keyboard to have access to Web sites, Compaq is going around Microsoft's control of the desktop on the Presario," said Staten. "They have a little more freedom from Microsoft, being able to deal directly with AOL and GTE," he added.