In a potential blow to Microsoft, Netscapes Internet browser will be included inside every new Hewlett-Packard and Compaq computer sold starting early next year, Netscape said Monday.
The arrangement allows for those buying new Hewlett-Packard Co. or Compaq consumer personal computers to choose Netscape as their default Web browser and to start the Web browser using icons on the desktop or Start menu.
Computers with Netscape Communications Corp.s Web browser will debut in early 2006, according to a source briefed on the deal.
This is the first time since the so-called "browser wars" of the 1990s that a computer manufacturer has decided to include a Web browser other than Microsoft Corp.s Internet Explorer in its products.
Its a daunting sign for Microsoft, said those with knowledge of the deal, because it signals that computer makers now recognize the growing influence and popularity of non-Microsoft browsers.
Indeed, a spokesperson for America Online Inc., which owns Netscape, predicts that other browser makers will ink similar deals with computer makers.
"HP is pleased to offer our customers a choice with the addition of the Netscape browser to our consumer PC line up," Nick Labosky, an HP director, said in a statement.
For Netscape, the deal comes at a time when its threatening to become irrelevant in the browser market that it helped create in the mid-to-late 1990s, only to be overrun by Microsoft.
The deal just might give Netscape owner America Online the shot in the arm it needs to challenge Microsofts IE and Mozillas Firefox browser, seen as an up and coming challenge.