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Gateway contract shows OEMs have choice, says Microsoft

But Gateway's Windows OEM contract has made a remarkable transition from minor breakthrough to key evidence...

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In court today Microsoft attorney Michael Lacovara produced his client's distribution agreement with Gateway as evidence that OEMs have a choice when it comes to the browsers they want to bundle. Whether this can be termed remarkable cheek, remarkable ignorance, or both, is up to you and the judge to decide. Just over a week after the DoJ filed against Microsoft earlier this year, the Beast of Redmond had a sudden attack of liberality when it came to Gateway (Click for Story). Until that point Microsoft had been set hard against allowing OEMs to customise the initial screen, and as internal memos from the company produced in court have already made clear, the company's execs were busily looking for ways to lock more and more into this initial process. Gateway itself had testified on the subject in court hearings held last autumn, its basic view then being that it would like to have the ability to modify the opening screen, and that not having this ability was a serious restriction on it. The breakthrough for Gateway earlier this year was that it gained permission to encourage its customers to sign up to its own Internet access service, and as part of this to allow them a choice of browser. At best, this put Netscape Navigator on an even footing with IE on Gateway machines, and of course we can't help remembering that the DoJ case against Microsoft was already rolling when this massive concession was made. But as Lacovara said today, it's an example of how the OEMs are now allowed to choose browsers. Sort of. They've got to include IE with Windows 98, obviously (won't come out, says Microsoft), but they can include Navigator as well if they like. And it doesn't necessarily apply to all of them, either. As Microsoft's Jim Cullinan said at the time, the fact that Gateway ran its own Internet service (which was unusual for a PC company until recently) meant that "Gateway does have a special circumstance." Which kind of seems to imply that the Gateway case, now being used as important evidence by Microsoft, was at least originally intended as a one-off special. ® Complete Register trial coverage

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