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IBM will offer Netscape on Win 98

Mirroring Gateway's strategy, IBM will offer Netscape on Windows 98 and promote its own Internet connection service.

IBM said today it will offer both Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers on its Aptiva consumer PCs.

The move follows news that Gateway will offer both browsers to customers through its Internet service and that NEC Computer Systems will offer both on a CD-ROM with its corporate laptops.

Many industry observers say that PC vendors currently enjoy a greater margin of freedom to customize their desktops and specifically the browsers they offer, in the wake of comments from Microsoft. The software giant has indicated that it will not challenge Big Blue's and Gateway's decision to make it easier for their customers to access Netscape browser software.

Windows 98, Microsoft's upgraded operating system due to hit the stores on or before June 25, features a one-click Internet connection "wizard" Microsoft is allowing PC vendors to customize for their users. Microsoft plans to make its Internet Explorer browser an integrated feature in the OS.

IBM said today it will direct customers to its own Internet service and its own Internet browser choices through this Internet connection wizard option, a service similar to Gateway's offering.

"The Aptivas will have as their default ISP the IBM Internet Connection Service," said Rusty Carpenter, spokesman for IBM's Global Services division. "There are others listed, but for the default we want to promote our own service."

Microsoft, for its part, has said PC vendors can customize their Internet connection as they please. But to date, only Gateway and IBM have taken advantage of this ISP loophole. "We've given the OEMs the flexibility to customize the desktop and specifically to be able to add their own ISP," said Windows 98 group product manager Rob Bennett, in an interview with CNET NEWS.COM earlier this week.

"They all can do this, to a certain degree. All the [PC vendors] can benefit from this," said Roger Kay, an analyst at International Data Corporation. "And they all need to capitalize on it."

IBM Aptivas currently ship with both Netscape and IE on the desktop, although the IBM Internet Connection Services Internet Access Kit for its ISP customers only includes Navigator, according to IBM's Internet Connection Service Web site. A spokesman for IBM's consumer PC group said that both IE and Navigator will be offered on Aptivas shipping with Windows 98.

Kay speculated that IBM's decision may have been motivated by something more than customer demand. Microsoft has almost been IBM's "nemesis" since it coopted Big Blue's OS business, according to the analyst.

"IBM has always been in the other camp," Kay noted. "Microsoft stole its [OS] glory, and this may be a way to get something back."