Euro PC makers shun ‘reduced media’ Windows

The European Commission is battling to ensure that a new, “reduced” version of Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system will appear palatable to customers, but its efforts may be in vain: Most of Europe’s biggest PC makers said they don’t plan to offer the software anyway.

In the latest twist, the Commission on Monday was said to be 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 Web sites 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 Windows release, which the Commission hopes will create a more level playing field in the media player market. The Commission has already rejected Microsoft’s suggestion that it call the software “Reduced Media Edition,” Microsoft confirmed Friday.

The two sides are in talks over the outstanding issues and expect to resolve them in the coming weeks, a Commission spokesman said Monday. If the Commission is not satisfied that Microsoft is complying fully with its ruling it has the option to impose penalty payments equal to five per cent of Microsoft’s daily turnover, the spokesman said.

“They must not make the unbundled version of Windows any less attractive (than the standard version),” he said.

Microsoft was ordered to sell a version of Windows without its media player last year as part of the Commission’s efforts to curb the software maker’s abuse of its monopoly power. By effectively forcing PC makers to include Windows Media Player with every computer they sold, Microsoft gained an unfair advantage over rivals such as RealNetworks Inc. and Apple Computer Inc., the Commission said.

However, Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Fujitsu Siemens Computers (Holding) BV, which are three of the top four PC makers in Europe, all have no current plans to offer the new version of Windows, representatives from those companies said. Acer Corp., which rounds out the top four in Europe, did not return calls seeking comment, while IBM Corp. 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 wrote in an e-mail response to questions. “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 for the company said via e-mail.

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 Sv