No matter what it does, Microsoft will always have a well-rehearsed narrative to explain its most outrageous actions. When MSN was launched on the Windows 95 desktop, competitors complained bitterly only to be met with claims of "paranoia" and "neurotic delusion" from the Redmond camp.
It seems Microsoft is no longer happy with its logo appearing on nearly 150 million machines worldwide. It wants the logo to appear by default on PCs - even at the manufacturers' expense.
Why? Well, Microsoft is pushing the sequel to Windows 95 in the form of the Active Desktop, which is essentially an active bar on your computer that receives news, comment, adverts and other American bounty that will try to steer you, the user, onto a particular part of the Web. These goodies will appear as 'channels' and will carry their own special content direct to your PC.
So if you want share prices delivered to you every five minutes, for example, the Active Desktop will trawl through the net and bring you the latest quotes - laden with gaudy ads about Seattle's finest coffees. It's akin to having a TV built into your desktop that is updated as and when you want it.
But therein lies the problem. Microsoft designed the desktop which receives the channels you see on your screen. And guess what? Microsoft is fast becoming one of the most powerful media companies in the world. Bill Gates is up to his neck in news (MSNBC & MSN), entertainment (Dreamworks & the consumer division) and politics (Slate), so you can be sure Microsoft channels will get preferential treatment when Active Desktop arrives.
There's a certain irony at play here, for when Microsoft asks us "where do you want to go today?", it's already decided where we're going.
Time to stop the extortion
The point of anything being industry-standard is that a customer is free to choose the best on offer from a variety of suppliers. The PC industry is built on openness: IBM built the very first PC from standard, off-the-shelf components.
Since the PC industry is open, a customer can choose to buy extra components from any company that builds upgrade cards for PCs, not just from the manufacturer of the actual machine. Companies building PCs regard this as something of a drawback. They'd love their customers to purchase all PC upgrades from themselves, rather than a third-party. So PC manufacturers have had to devise ways of tying customers into their own technology.
We report on the case of a PC Week reader whose Dell machine required a special (ie Dell-supplied) bracket for the drive-bay in order to install other suppliers' components. This 'special' bracket isn't cheap: u35 for two strips of plastic and a couple of screws.
That is simply extortion aimed at coercing customers into buying components supplied only by the manufacturer which built the machine. It is not fair for the customer and it is about time users demanded truly standard PCs.
Tell us what you think.
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