PC makers' plans to depart from past practices and include Netscape Navigator on new computers will probably not be derailed by today's ruling that Microsoft can compel vendors to offer its Internet Explorer browser along with the Windows 95 operating system.
Last month, PC makers seemed to adopt a new mantra: customer choice. One after another, companies like Packard Bell NEC, Gateway, and IBM announced that on certain desktops carrying Windows 98 and its integrated Web browser, customers would certainly have a choice of Internet browsers.
Today, a federal appeals court overturned an injunction preventing Microsoft from requiring PC makers to ship Internet Explorer (IE) with Windows 95 systems, a twist that has left some industry observers wondering whether PC vendors' passion to provide customers with browser choices will last.
The ruling will probably not affect the plans of companies who have already publicly stated they will offer Netscape along with IE, analysts say. However, other PC companies may hesitate before following down the same path.
"In theory, a PC manufacturer can still offer Netscape as an additional product," said Jeffery Tarter, editor of Softletter, an industry newsletter. "I think the larger significance is that it reinforces Microsoft's position that the browser and the OS are essentially an integrated single product."
"Windows 98 is like a [McDonald's] Happy Meal," he theorized. "Microsoft is arguing they have as much right as McDonalds does in saying, 'A Happy Meal contains these components.' Fries and hamburgers go in a Happy Meal, but they also sell them separately."
Nevertheless, the analyst added, "If you want the toy, you have to buy the Happy Meal."
Last month, Gateway and IBM announced that they would direct customers to their own Internet services on new consumer systems, which would in turn offer users a choice between the two browsers.
"We have no comment on the injunction," said a spokesman for Gateway. "But I have not heard that there's been any change [from Gateway's previous announcements]."
IBM already ships Windows 95 machines with IE. Company sources said there are no plans to change that policy.
NEC said it would stick with previously stated plans to hide the Internet Explorer icon on some desktops, but ship a CD-ROM with both IE and Navigator.
"The bottom line is on Windows 98, the icon is there. We can't take it off. It's physically impossible," said D.J. Anderson, spokeperson for NEC. "The Windows 95 desktops will continue to ship the CD that has the software on it, and we will continue to delete the IE icon from the desktop, and it will still be on the CD."
IBM's fervor to provide customers with choice had already cooled by earlier this month, when company executives told NEWS.COM that although its consumer Aptivas would feature Netscape as the default dial-up browser when Windows 98 launches, by early fall, that position would go to IE.
Aptiva customers will still be able to use Netscape from the programs menu, IBM emphasized.