MS bootloader concession could boost Linux, BSD – Gassée

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One possible concession by Microsoft in the proposed AntiTrust settlement has come too late to save the company which pressed hardest for its inclusion: Be, Inc.

Section C/4 of the remedy states that Microsoft may not forbid OEMs "offering users the option of launching other Operating Systems from the Basic Input/Output System or a non-Microsoft boot-loader or similar program that launches prior to the start of the Windows Operating System Product".

OEM agreements preventing PC manufacturers from advertising the fact that an alternative was in fact, right in front of the user, pre-installed.

In the case of Hitachi, the most significant OEM to offer BeOS preinstalled, the user had to manually install a boot manager to activate the BeOS partition, a process which involved creating their own floppy boot disk. The package could not include a boot floppy, and the Windows desktop had no icons enabling the automation of the process, or even giving any indication that an alternative existed on the PC.

After the sale of Be assets to Palm was announced in August, Be founder Jean-Louis Gassée revealed that he had pressed the DoJ to add bootloaders restrictions to its case. But myopic DoJ lawyers were only interested in hearing Gassée's views on bundling the Web browser, and ironically that's an issue with which he had few complaints.

Plus ça change?
Gassée is cautious on whether the proposed remedy provides carte blanche for OEMs to promote alternatives alongside Windows.

"I'm always cautious around what these guys 'promise'," he told us via email at the weekend.

Be effectively abandoned its crown jewels - the glorious BeOS operating system - in January 2000 to refocus on the information appliance niche. Palm says it has no plans to invest in the moribund OS, although equally it has nothing to lose either if it simply turns over the unreleased BeOS v6 binaries as an unsupported release.

However, the winners may yet be Linux and the other alternative operating systems: "If it means they can no longer force OEMs to use their boot manager and then license said boot manager only to launch MS OSes, then it's a victory for consumers and the Linux, FreeBSD community," wrote Gassée.

Be scheduled a stockholder meeting for next Monday to seek approval for the sale of assets to Palm. ®

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