The European Commission continues to stand up to Microsoft in insisting on a new version of Windows that pulls out various control elements, but it may all be in vain since most of Europe's biggest PC makers said they don't plan to offer the software.
Yesterday, the Commission said it was concerned about certain messages that appear when users install the new Windows release, which comes without Microsoft's Windows Media Player software. The dialogue boxes apparently warn users that they won't be able to access certain websites or view some types of content with the operating system.
The Commission is keen to prevent Microsoft from doing anything that would make customers less willing to buy the new release. It has already rejected Microsoft's attempt to call it "Reduced Media Edition", for obvious reasons.
However, the top three PC makers in Europe - Dell, HP and Fujitsu Siemens - have all confirmed they have no current plans to offer the new version. Acer, number four largest, refuses to comment, and IBM said it wants to test the software and has yet to make a decision.
Dell and Fujitsu Siemens both cited the additional effort it would take for them to offer a new operating system and said that, in any case, they do not think customers will be interested in buying it. "It simplifies our ordering process to not have to distinguish between versions of the OS we load and ship with our systems," a spokeswoman for Dell said. "We will continue to monitor demand and could look at this again later if customer preference changes."
Fujitsu Siemens noted that the operating system will be priced the same as the full version of Windows. "For the time being, Fujitsu Siemens Computers will not offer the Reduced Media Version of Microsoft Windows due to less functionality without any cost saving effects but increased complexity and efforts," a spokeswoman said.
Some IT distributors, meanwhile, said they will stock the software but expect little demand for it from customers. "If both versions are offered at the same price then I'm sure customers will go with the full version," said Christian Svärd, managing director of IT distributor GNT Sweden.
Actebis Holding GmbH, which distributes Windows software to resellers in 12 European markets, called the new Windows release "media hype". Toshiba appears to be the only big PC vendor in Europe that said it plans to offer the OS.
Industry watchers aren't surprised by the lack of support, which appears to undermine the Commission's efforts to bring greater equality to the media player market. But its efforts may yet produce results, said Philip Carnelley, research director at Ovum. Offering Windows without Media Player may not benefit RealNetworks, but it will force Microsoft to think twice in the future about making other applications a standard part of its operating system, he said.
"I've always thought that the impact of the Commission's decision would be on Microsoft's future freedom to add what it likes to Windows," Carnelley said. "Microsoft has been giving away free copies of its anti-virus software while it's in beta, for example. I'm sure they'd just like to throw it into future editions of Windows like Longhorn. But now Microsoft is having to look over its shoulder and question what the EC will allow it to bundle with Windows and what it won't."
The new OS has already been delivered to Microsoft's biggest PC makers, Microsoft Europe spokesman Dirk Delmartino said. Microsoft's other partners in Europe will receive the software this month.
Simon Taylor, John Blau, Peter Sayer, Laura Rohde and Scarlet Pruitt contributed to this report.