Microsoft's changes haven't quelled worries

Microsoft's decision this week to give PC makers more leeway in installing applications on its upcoming Windows XP operating system may provide corporate users with added flexibility in configuring their computers. But it isn't doing much to quell antitrust concerns about the company's plans to weld more products to Windows, end users and analysts said.

The announcement that Microsoft made on Wednesday constitutes a mixed bag of changes to its PC manufacturers licensing policies for Windows. Although Microsoft said it will now let computer vendors offer rival products such as instant messaging software and media players on the Windows XP desktop, its own applications that perform similar functions will remain in place. A leaner operating system, which some end users say is desirable, won't necessarily result.

And while Microsoft decided to let PC makers include an add/remove function for Internet Explorer on Windows XP and earlier releases, that doesn't actually mean the browser will be removed from the operating system. Icons and other access points for Internet Explorer could disappear, but the browser technology would remain even after the remove function is run.

As a result, according to a Microsoft spokesman, Internet Explorer may still launch automatically in some cases, such as when the Windows Update feature in the Start menu is used if an alternate browser installed on a system isn't set up to support that function.

Complete removal of Internet Explorer would have been the best option for Brad Fox, IS manager at Bertch Cabinet Manufacturing in Waterloo, Iowa. "Some of the Internet Explorer registry keys wreak havoc with some of our custom programs," Fox said. "So when someone goes ahead and updates Internet Explorer, it cripples the system."

Fox said he would like to delete Internet Explorer altogether from some of Bertch's computers. Microsoft's plan to let PC makers cut off the browser's access points "will help, but not as much as being able to remove it," he added.

Microsoft continues to maintain that it's technically impossible to remove Internet Explorer from the operating system, a contention that it made in court during the trial phase of the government's antitrust case. But the company said the changes announced this week will give computer vendors "greater flexibility" in how they set up Windows on the systems they sell.

In response, though, Jim Easton, IS director at aircraft parts maker Air Industries Corp. in Garden Grove, Calif., said the improved flexibility being offered to PC makers will help only if it involves applications that he needs, such as improved remote access functions. "It depends on what they are [and] if they give us more robust products," he said.

Microsoft acknowledged that it's making the changes in reaction to a June 28 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, which upheld a lower court's ruling that the company used illegal means to maintain the monopoly status of Windows and that provisions in its PC manufacturers licenses for PC makers impaired the competitive chances of rival Web browsers.

The software vendor added that the new policies are taking effect immediately in an attempt to avoid any effect on the planned Oct. 25 release of Windows XP. But Microsoft still faces the possibility that legal actions concerning Windows XP could be filed by competitors in the wake of the appeals court decision.

This week's announcement may be an attempt by Microsoft to pave the way for the Windows XP launch and limit the extent to which the new operating system gets caught up in the antitrust case, said Yee Wah Chin, an antitrust attorney at Mintz Levin Chohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PC in Washington. "I think it would diffuse a lot of efforts to delay XP," she said.

Microsoft's moves also helped persuade New Mexico, one of the 19 states involved in the antitrust case, to reach a settlement with the company. The deal, which was disclosed yesterday, calls for Microsoft to pay New Mexico's legal costs and for the state to get the benefit of any further settlement agreements that are negotiated in the case.

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