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Microsoft has backtracked on its concessions to free OEMs of restrictions, reopening one of the sores exposed in the AntiTrust case.

The Appeals Court upheld the prosecution's case that Microsoft had acted anti-competitively in restricting ISPs choice of browser.

This time, Microsoft has reimposed conditions on OEMs who want to allow MSN rivals equal access to the Windows desktop. PC vendors will be permitted to promote icons for third party ISPs only if MSN is included too.

Late Friday Compaq announced it had taken advantage of Microsoft's death bed conversion to openness a fortnight ago. The Beast decreed that Internet Explorer could be de-installed, and vowed not to impose OEM restrictions on the Windows desktop and boot-up sequence. Subsequently Compaq agreed to give AOL, which is desperate to maintain some screen real estate in the post-XP world, exclusive position on Compaq XP PCs.

Microsoft has confirmed that it's not going to sanction such arrangements, reopening the issue of anti-competitive tying.

It's such a flagrant provocation to its critics, our first reaction that this was another restriction that Microsoft could generously "withdraw" a few days later. But there are signs that it's serious about fighting it to the death. In a nauseating press conference on Friday, Windows product boss Jim Allchin - after describing how his Mom had weeped real tears of joy at the ease of use features in Windows XP (we kid you not) - said that Microsoft would fight arrangements such as Compaq's because they reduced choice for the customer.

PC OEMs can be expected to fight equally hard.

At stake, as ever, is where Microsoft's responsibility over the "end user experience" ends and where the OEM's begins. Microsoft gives precious little opportunity for OEMs to develop their own branding - you'll always boot a "Windows" PC with a Windows look and feel, and never for example an HP PC with an HP look and feel - effectively relegating the OEMs to the role of box shifters. PC OEMs are chaffing at the bit to develop their own branding, and if they can succeed in forcing a crack - an icon or two onto Whistler - they'll be hoping the whole dam will break behind it. &Reg;

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