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HP considered shipping non-MS OS with its Win95 PCs

Testimony confirms earlier suggestions from MS OEM boss

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MS on Trial Hewlett-Packard considered shipping another operating system with its Windows 95 machines, in order to get round Microsoft restrictions placed on the initial boot sequence, according to trial testimony released this week. The plan was apparently rejected because of the strain it would have placed on HP's resources, but it is a further sign of the stresses placed on the OEM relationship by Microsoft's "Windows Experience." This week's testimony comes from John Romano, famous some months back for a belligerent letter to Microsoft saying HP would buy its operating systems elsewhere if it had a choice - which it didn't (HP: We'd dump Windows if we could). The second operating system plan itself harks back to the Windows 95 prelaunch period, when HP PC boss Jacques Clay threatened to ship OS/2 in order to wring concessions from Microsoft, but it also shows that something Microsoft OEM chief Joachim Kempin said at the trial wasn't anything like as bizarre as it seemed. The Microsoft rules for what PC manufacturers can and can't do with Windows on their PCs have been covered ad nauseam here, but briefly, they go like this. There should be an installable (but not installed) version of Windows on the PC, and once the initial Windows boot sequence begins no software other than Microsoft software is allowed to run. PC manufacturers have, since the days of Romano's letter, gained a little more freedom in what they can do during this sequence, but it's still largely Microsoft-driven. Microsoft decides what is displayed on the desktop, and what the initial look and feel is. Microsoft also collects the registration data, whereas PC manufacturers would prefer to collect this themselves, naturally. Kempin suggested to the court that a way around this would be for the PC manufacturer to install a 'thin' operating system that kicked in before the Microsoft licensing procedure kicked in. At the time this seemed a convoluted way to get round the Microsoft contractual straightjacket, and surely something that had only appeared in Kempin's tortured, legalistic mind. But no - HP thought of it too. The fact that HP didn't pursue it, however, does tend to point up how much OEMs pursue the line of least resistance and least cost, and how much this inadvertently helps Microsoft ratchet-up its Ts and Cs. ® Complete Register trial coverage

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