PC vendors snub antitrust altered Windows

PC vendors such as HP and Dell are ignoring a version of Windows without a bundled media player, raising questions about the effectiveness of the Europe's antitrust ruling

The four largest PC vendors have no plans to sell the media player-free version of Windows which Microsoft was ordered to offer by Europe's competition commissioner.

Microsoft will make an updated version of Window XP N available on Wednesday, but none of the computer manufacturers that ZDNet UK spoke to are considering pre-installing it on desktops or laptops.

Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Fujitsu Siemens all claimed to have no firm plans to install Windows XP N, citing a lack of customer demand. A Dell spokesman said on Tuesday that the company has no plans to install Windows XP N on its computers as customers expect to have a media player included.

"Dell will continue to offer European customers Microsoft's Windows operating systems including the Windows Media Player utility on Dimension desktops and Inspiron notebooks. Customers purchase computers expecting them to come equipped with the capability of playing back digital media files and it's our obligation to meet this need," said the spokesman. "[Windows XP will] not [be offered] at this time. We'll monitor the market to see if XP N is in high demand."

Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo, which last month completed its purchase of IBM's PC division, echoed similar sentiments.

"At this time, HP has no plans to support Windows XP Professional Edition N on commercial notebooks in 2005," said an HP spokesman.

"At present we have no plans to pre-install Windows XP N on desktops and laptops. We will continue to monitor customer demand going forward," said a Lenovo spokesman.

The only company that conceded it may pre-install Windows XP N was Fujitsu Siemens, which said it would do so on request. "We will not pre-install as standard. It will only be on special requests and we have had no such request from any of our customers to date," said a Fujitsu Siemens spokesperson.

PC vendor Acer has been unable to provide a comment on this issue over the last week.

The lack of interest from computer manufacturers for Windows XP N raises questions over the effectiveness of the EU's antitrust ruling, particularly the fact that Microsoft has been allowed to offer Windows XP N for the same price as the standard version of Windows XP.

An European Commission spokesman was reluctant to comment on the issue. "Given that Windows XP N has not yet even been shipped yet, it is too early to start drawing conclusions," he said.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft said it bears no responsibility for making PC manufacturers use Windows XP N. "Microsoft has made these products available through its standard distribution channels. Whether or not customers or distributors offer this product in Europe is a decision for individual computer manufacturers, enterprise customers and retailers," said a Microsoft spokesperson.

One of Microsoft's rivals in the media player market, RealNetworks, criticised Microsoft earlier this year for failing to provide a fully functional version of Windows that is unbundled from Windows Media Player. Microsoft has since updated Windows XP N in response to comments from the EC and RealNetworks, but it is uncertain whether all issues have been resolved.

RealNetworks refused to comment on the updated version of Windows XP N.