Microsoft has finally bitten the bullet and all but admitted that Internet Explorer does not have to be integrated with Windows.
The Redmond giant yesterday granted PC manufacturers access to the desktop with the freedom to add or remove icons from the desktop or Start menu.
Effective immediately, PC manufacturers shipping Windows XP, or any earlier Microsoft operating system, now have the option to "remove the Start menu entries and icons that provide end users with access to the Internet Explorer components of the operating system".
They will also "retain the option of putting icons directly onto the Windows desktop", although Microsoft said that it had "designed Windows XP to ship with a clean desktop and improved Start menu".
So messing about with the desktop might ruin that "clean look" but PC manufacturers will now have the option of continuing to place icons on the Windows desktop if they want to.
But the biggest change will be the ability to remove Internet Explorer through the Add/Remove Programs feature.
Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said: "We recognise that some provisions in our existing Windows licences have been ruled improper by a court decision, so we are providing computer manufacturers with greater flexibility."
Earlier licensing agreements prohibited manufacturers from changing a pre-set collection of icons on the desktop. Later the licence was changed to allow manufacturers to add icons such as the one for rival internet browser Netscape Navigator.
But Microsoft's consistent stand has been that Explorer is inseparable from Windows, a claim disproved during the court case.
However, the apparent backing down may be no more than a compromise to make sure Windows XP ships on time.
Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group, said that Microsoft feared that if it didn't do this now, the Government could try to block the 25 October release of Windows XP.
"The fact of the matter is they physically could have done this all along, but they didn't want to and now they have to," he said.
"Microsoft and third parties have more than $500m of advertising wrapped around the launch. If the other companies are nervous about the product shipping, Microsoft had to remove the nervousness and make changes to prevent an injunction from blocking the XP product launch," he added.
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