BIOS specialist Phoenix might have found the ultimate niche IT market: ebetween Windows of opportunity.
Phoenix, maker of BIOS software for 70% of the world's PCs, has set up a subsidiary, dubbed ebetween, to sell icons that users can agree to be displayed on their Microsoft Windows desktop.
BIOS is the software that checks a PC's hardware and systems during the initial POST (Power-On Self Test) sequence, before the main operating system boots up. BIOS software is housed on a chip on the PC's motherboard.
The BIOS chip is small, but it has enough extra space for ebetween to store its icon software. When the customer buys a PC and turns it on for the first time, the PC boots into Windows, and the customer is prompted to agree to Microsoft's End User Licence Agreement (EULA). Upon that agreement, Phoenix's patented software would prompt again, asking whether the user would like to install extra icons on the desktop to help connect to, and find information on, the Internet.
Laurent Gharda, vice president of marketing at Phoenix, told PC Week: "ebetween offers the users the choice. We are abiding by Microsoft's rules, which state that OEMs cannot do anything until the user has signed the EULA. Our reason for doing this is that only 15% of white box users get onto the Internet."
White boxes are PCs sold by smaller OEMs, which are usually sourced from larger companies in the Far East.
Gharda said larger OEMs already provide bundled Internet access with PCs because their larger shipment volumes allowed them to gain more concessions from Microsoft. "What has been missing is a single entity that can do this for the white box market," said Gharda, who admitted that the product would not affect corporate users because most large companies are already connected to the Internet.
Phoenix is hoping that Internet content providers will pay to be included on this screen and will offer special deals to customers who agree to the icons.
The ebetween product could severely encroach on Microsoft's dominance of the PC desktop, a key issue in its antitrust trial. A range of manufacturers have accused Microsoft of forcing unfair concessions from them in return for placement on the Windows desktop, such as agreements not to promote Netscape's browser software.
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