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Phoenix readies plan to subvert MS OEM contracts

Put it in the bios! They'll be putting the whole OS (hello DR-DOS) in the bios next...

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Through its OEM contracts Microsoft has a vice-like grip on the OS installation and first boot sequence of a PC. So much so that earlier this year MS OEM chief Joachim Kempin suggested that, if PC companies wanted to advertise their own wares on their PCs, they could do it via an embedded operating system that executed while the hardware itself was booting, and before the OS started to load. Well Joachim, apparently that wasn't such a dumb suggestion, because bios king Phoenix Technologies is doing it. The reason for Kempin's somewhat esoteric suggestion is relatively simple. Microsoft's OEM contracts dictate the initial look and feel of what the company terms the Windows Experience, and this includes the software that loads as the OS installs, what the desktop looks like, and what should be installed on the machine when it first boots after the OS has installed. The contracts specifically state there will be no advertising of products (apart from Microsoft ones, that is), and no non-MS software running once the install procedure has started. That gives Microsoft considerable control over all sorts of stuff, including the default browser (and therefore the one most users will stick with), and the range of ISPs that is presented to the user for Internet sign-up. Rake-offs for MS, no rake-offs for the PC companies (although we concede the ropes have been loosened a tad over the past few months). So over to Phoenix. Its bios software obviously loads before the MS contracts come into effect, and Phoenix has twigged (possibly after reading Register trial coverage) that this is valuable real estate. Future versions of Phoenix's bios will include facilities for companies to advertise their wares, and Phoenix is pitching at Internet outfits initially. According to today's Wall Street Journal, AOL, Yahoo, Cnet and Excite are interested already. But as also according to today's Wall Street Journal this would mean AOL could put its sign-up icon directly on the desktop of any PC (nope, clear breach of MS OEM contract, and difficult to figure out how a bios could do that anyway), this may not be true. How you actually get people signed up to an ISP from a bios is quite another matter. Will it just run as nagware with a 'phone this number' message? Or will there be a 'press F1 to squirt sign-up icon onto desktop' message? Or maybe you load something into memory - you can't do this under the MS contract in the initial boot sequence, but after that you could. Still, sounds like cowpats ahoy to us. ®

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