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AOL in cahoots with Compaq, HP to derail WinXP, .NET?

Plan to defang Windows Experience while spreading smut about bugs

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AOL is considering what amounts to all out war on Microsoft and Windows XP, according to a document obtained by Betanews, which has been getting its hands on some corkers of late. If genuine the document is an AOL internal strategy memo listing "response scenarios" to XP. Practically all of them are seriously hardball, and at their most extreme they'd add up to recruiting an OEM coalition to topple Microsoft from the desktop while destabilising the XP rollout.

Fear, uncertainty, doubt? It couldn't happen to a nicer company. Not that you'd categorise AOL as one of those either. There is a 'surrender' option in the document; this would involve accepting assimilation into Microsoft's XP worldview while "gaining specific 'carve outs' for AOL." But you kind of get the feeling the author doesn't fancy this one, and anyway, they tried it before, when Win95 shipped.

Given the nature of XP and .NET, AOL's fears are justified. They present "a significant risk to the AOL franchise. By integrating and embedding traditonal AOL functionality (e.g. email, IM, chat, wallet, calendar, address book, web browsing, content aggregation, media players, etc) into the OS and .NET initiative, Microsoft is essentially absorbing much of the AOL client based functionality into the OS... The risk exists that the consumer... will simply use the default Microsoft solutions."

AOL sees the removal of icons from the desktop and to control the number of preinstalled apps on the top level start menu as removing the OEM's ability to "monetize the desktop." So the opportunity for a counter-attack lies in the desire of OEM's to block this. HP and Compaq, says the memo, "have specifically indicated they are interested in taking steps to 'remonetize' the desktop.

We can maybe therefore speculate about an AOL-HP-Compaq triple alliance aiming to derail Microsoft's XP strategy. Responses "in concert" with the OEMs include working with them to "ensure AOL is the default application and service for all online activity, and that AOL has extensive presence throughout the OS." But that's about the most modest of them.

The memo also proposes making AOL apps the default for online activities, working with an OEM to replace the default desktop environment, or even to "launch a more esoteric solution such as an alternative OS or a modified MS OS." It's worth bearing in mind that XP does allow modified UI's, so that part of the suggestion is perhaps less extreme than it might initially seem. The Register, for example, is currently running the Stardock WindowblindsXP KDE look and feel on the test machine, and very pretty it is too. But an OEM actually getting licensed by Microsoft to ship this or similar as a default would be a hell of lot harder.

Alongside the 'round up the OEMs and beat MS to death' master plans we have the FUD campaign. The message "to AOL members and the public that XP is 'not ready' for broad adoption... has bugs, will not run AOL, will not run your existing software, will violate your online privacy..." Not very nice, granted, but if you think it's unfair, think about DR-DOS. AOL should also encourage OEMs to stick with WinME (in our view this is the most despicable of all the ideas) "until AOL can develop and appropriate solution for XP."

Microsoft itself is unlikely to be enthusiastic about AOL's current minimum demands, but for the record, here they are:

Current Minimum OEM XP Integration Goals

1) "One Click" OOBE [Out of Box Experience] AOL registration to install AOL during XP registration and replace Microsoft default file associations
2) Place compatible AOL XP bundle client installer on the machine
3) Get Persistent Desktop icon presence after OOBE
4) Start menu presence equal MSN
a) If client is preinstalled, establish AOL as default Internet & mail application
b) If client is not preinstalled, provide OEM a shim which would set AOL as the default
5) Promotion in Wizards and eCommerce destinations: My Music, My Pictures, Web Publishing, etc…
6) Active Desktop defaulted to the off position.
7) Netscape, AIM, Spinner & WinAmp bundled and established as defaults as appropriate in the OS. AOL registration through the OOBE would override these defaults.
8) Get "Designed for Microsoft Windows" logo program exemption for AOL. Microsoft pays the OEM significant rebates to have their software bundles compliant with Microsoft specifications. The AOL client will likely not meet Microsoft’s standards, resulting in OEM PC’s being out of compliance with the logo program and jeopardizing the rebates. ®

Betanews' take on the memo:
AOL Marshalls Troops Against MS XP Offensive

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