PC builders need freedom to maneuver during the coming winter holiday season. We urge Microsoft not to burden OEMs with a massive, generic Windows XP configuration that could easily intimidate prospective PC buyers by imposing too many ties to unproven Web services. If Microsoft overplays its hand, the result could easily be disappointing PC sales and further delays in overall economic recovery.
Our concerns flow from this summers steady stream of bad news about Microsoft platform insecurities. With every likelihood that autumn will bring more of the same, winters PC buyers may be unwilling to depend on HailStorm and Passport and other Microsoft services as Web commerce intermediaries.
If every new PC on the post-Thanksgiving retail floor comes overequipped with "eXPerience" bells and whistles, consumer electronics buyers may well decide to look in a different toy box. Even if overall holiday spending is healthy (an optimistic scenario in itself), the buyers may favor next-generation TV sets or other home entertainment appliances—perhaps with their own forms of Internet access that dont impose a continuing grip on users wallets.
PC OEMs should demand from Microsoft the freedom to differentiate their products: to offer the new, and undeniably excellent, Windows XP core with the portfolio of Internet and multimedia accessories that each OEM believes will be most popular with its customers. Let Dell sell a Dell machine, IBM an IBM system, Compaq and Gateway their own ideas of how a PC should look and behave. Let Microsoft compete against other providers of media, e-commerce and Internet portal alternatives.
For now, however, Microsoft doesnt appear to be headed in this direction. "I have no plans to change anything," said Microsofts platforms group Vice President Jim Allchin in an eWeek interview when asked about concerns that Windows XP might be too big a bundle. Even Microsofts tentative concessions, for example in the matter of smart tags suspected of guiding users to Microsoft-favored Web sites, must be seen as tactical maneuvers rather than corporate reformations.
But PC buyers may also be unready to yield. The customer faced with a choice between too much on the one hand or nothing on the other will likely keep purse and wallet closed until another day.
A holiday season of beige Wintel boxes, all overstuffed with the same massive bundle of unwanted Microsoft accessories and service entanglements, could bring on a nuclear winter for PC OEMs—and for those who depend upon them.