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AOL's plans for dumping Windows, IE

Slightly Walter Mitty, they were, but TV's another matter

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MS on Trial AOL's projected 'no-Windows' PC (Sun-AOL plan for no-Windows PC) finally made it to court yesterday, but by some strange alchemy Microsoft's attorneys nevertheless seem to have failed to set the world on fire in the quizzing of 'hostile witness' David Colburn. The AOL PC plan was presented to the AOL board last October, but the plan didn't go ahead. Allegedly. Something looking remarkably like a successor to the AOL PC plan is deeply embedded in the company's recent AOL TV announcement (See story), but Microsoft's defence team is probably so focussed on the AOL-Netscape deal that they've failed to notice associated developments further down the line. Last October's plan seems to have come in two flavours. There would be one PC that was Windows-based, but whose user interface would have been effectively hijacked by AOL. The other, more ambitious, plan was for a machine using another OS. Remarkably, AOL TV is going for this more ambitious version of the 'abandoned' plan. Both machines were intended to involve heavy use of Java, and considering the timing you'd expect a heavy Sun and Netscape involvement if they'd gone ahead. Colburn yesterday pointed out that AOL had ruled out plans to abandon IE in favour of Netscape, although interestingly enough AOL documentation shows that its executives felt that the Microsoft relationship would get worse, not better. That implies a need to break free in the long term and, well, there we are back at AOL TV again. The PC plan, obviously, wasn't a runner. In order to get an AOL-specific user interface onto PCs in any numbers while still using Windows as the base OS, AOL would need either to get a PC manufacturer to kick over the whole of Microsoft's OEM licensing structure, or do it itself. This, as the trial and large volumes of Register coverage of MS OEM agreements shows, is impossible without the help of the courts. Putting together a completely non-MS PC would be technically and contractually simpler, but it would be unlikely to play in the PC market. PC manufacturers wouldn't be interested, and AOL wouldn't want to get directly into the PC business. Of course, if you targeted a different, new market like interactive TV and called it a set-top box, the lack of Windows wouldn't be a major issue. Which takes us back to AOL TV again. Sheesh, MS' attorneys didn't focus on any of this yesterday - how much are the punks getting paid, anyway? ® Complete Register trial coverage

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