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Commentary: Microsoft's olive branch

Gartner says Microsoft's decision to let PC makers add and remove icons on the Windows desktop is good news not only for hardware makers, but also for AOL and many consumers.

    By Michael Silver and Thomas Bittman, Gartner Analyst

    After years of maintaining tight control over what hardware manufacturers could and couldn't do to the Windows desktop on new machines, Microsoft is going to let them add and remove icons on the Windows desktop.

    That is good news not only for hardware makers, but also for AOL Time Warner and many consumers.

    Only the icons--for Internet Explorer

    See news story:
    Microsoft changes Windows license terms
    and Microsoft Network Explorer--can be removed; the underlying technology remains, even if the icons are stripped from the desktop. If a hardware vendor wants to install other applications, such as AOL's Internet software, and add the icon to the desktop, it can do so. Although it would have been easier for AOL to arrange to have its own icon on the Windows XP CD, under the new provisions AOL can negotiate with each vendor to get its icon placed directly on new PCs.

    If a hardware maker does remove the IE and MSN Explorer icons, the MSN access icon will appear and the hardware maker will not be allowed to remove it. End users, however, can delete that access icon. (It is important to understand the difference between MSN Explorer--a browser--and the MSN Internet service.)

    In Gartner's opinion, Microsoft's policy change represents many things to many parties:

    • For AOL and other third parties, it opens the door for their products to be more accessible to users of the Microsoft platform.

    • For PC makers, it offers a chance to provide another feature to differentiate themselves in the eyes of consumers.

    • For consumers, it offers more choice on Microsoft platforms.

    • For Microsoft, it represents an olive branch to the U.S. Court of Appeals and demonstrates a good-faith effort by the software giant to put the antitrust case behind it.

    However, this action is only one step for Microsoft--the court case is far from over. Gartner believes that a civil suit could be filed over Windows XP and other features that Microsoft has added to it. That action could delay the operating system's release, and Gartner sees a small but real potential that Windows XP would not ship until after the fourth quarter.

    (For related commentary on Microsoft's new XP licensing scheme, see TechRepublic.com--free registration required.)

    Entire contents, Copyright © 2001 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.