NEC has joined the anti-Microsoft wave, announcing a laptop that does not bundle the Internet Explorer browser with Windows 95.
The move came as Microsoft was protesting that it had never tried to prevent PC makers customising their start-up screens, denying OEMs' claims that its licensing terms force them to provide screens that point users to MS products such as IE.
NEC is the first vendor to exercise the option to offer Windows 95 without bundling IE, a right conceded by Microsoft in an agreement with the US Department of Justice in January.
But OEMs are still forced under their licensing contracts to bundle the Microsoft browser with the forthcoming Windows 98. NEC claimed yesterday that it will "deal with that issue as it arises", since it does not believe there will be rapid uptake of the new operating system.
Other vendors, such as Gateway and NEC's parent company Packard Bell/NEC, are planning to customise the start-up screen on their Windows 98 machines in order to offer a choice of browsers and their own Internet interface, but IE will still be included in the system as standard (see Newswire 28 May).
Microsoft's vice president of sales and marketing, Jeff Raikes, told a CEO summit hosted by MS chief Bill Gates yesterday that this option had always been open to PC makers. "They can all do the same as Gateway," he claimed. But Hewlett Packard and others have testified to antitrust hearings that they need greater control over the design of start-up screens.
However, Compaq's president Eckhard Pfeiffer also attended the Gates Summit (see separate story) and gave Microsoft some rare support as antitrust cases loom. "If we wanted to do things differently we would," he said of the start-up screen issue.
NEC's unbundled laptops, the Versa LX and SX, will debut next month in the US and will roll out in Europe shortly afterwards. They will include only the OS and "applications critical to the functioning of the system" said a company spokesperson. Both IE and the Netscape Navigator browser, along with antivirus software and other options, will be shipped on a separate CD-Rom.
The spokesperson claimed this is not purely a gesture against Microsoft but a practical move because so many customers wipe out preinstalled software and then try to reinstall it, often losing vital utilities along the way.
But the NEC move is in keeping with its prominent position among the PC makers that testified against Microsoft before antitrust suits were filed last week. Senior executive Jon Kies said in his testimony that customers "do not like to have choices forced upon them".
Microsoft claimed that NEC's action did not make any material difference, except to remove the IE icon from the default screen. All the functionality is still hidden in the system, a spokesperson said.
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