Microsoft is insisting that PC vendors include the Windows Media Player icon among any software and services placed on the desktop screen of machines installed with its forthcoming Windows XP operating system.
The software giant confirmed today that PC vendors which do not run a 'clean' desktop must include Internet Explorer, MSN Explorer and Windows Media Player, a competitor to popular internet streaming tool Real Player.
A Microsoft spokeswoman told vnunet.com: "We believe that the clean desktop offers the best consumer experience but recognise the rights of our PC customers to make their own business decisions."
She added that PC makers can still replace Internet Explorer with another web browser and could then replace MSN Explorer with an MSN internet access icon. But she said that PC makers have been told to leave the icon for Windows Media Player on the desktop regardless of any other changes they may make.
Liberated by a June court ruling against Microsoft, PC vendors have started treating their desktop screens as advertising sites. They've found keen buyers among vendors of software and services which want their products to be the first thing to greet users when they boot up their PCs.
One such deal, between AOL and Compaq, knocked Microsoft's MSN service off Compaq desktops, and may have triggered Microsoft's new XP ground rules.
AOL, a one-time Microsoft ally, said that the Redmond giant has reverted to abusing the power gained through its dominance of the operating system market.
John Buckley, vice president at AOL Time Warner, claimed: "Microsoft's message to consumers, computer makers and the Government is: 'We own the desktop and there's nothing you can do about it'."
Desktop advertising deals only became possible this June when a US court ruled that Microsoft had unfairly blended its Windows and Internet Explorer code through insisting that Internet Explorer was the exclusive web browser on the desktops of PCs running Windows 95.
But some commentators believe Microsoft's position that Windows Media Player must be included on desktops featuring software icons could fall foul of the same legal standard.
The forthcoming operating system, officially due to be launched on 25 October, may be on sale as early as next month.
Experts have speculated that the launch could be halted by legal challenges, but the likelihood of action against XP now seems to be fading.
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