HP to make Microsoft Live Search its system default

Update ribbon (small)

5:00 pm EDT June 2, 2008 - BetaNews has learned further details concerning the extent of the partnership between HP and Microsoft. In addition to the Live Search agreement, the computer maker would also install Silverlight, meaning that Microsoft's answer to Flash could potentially now reach millions of new computer buyers.

The plug-in is necessary to run the newest version of the Live Search toolbar, so there would really be no way for the application to not be installed.

Today the world's largest computer maker, the company that now embodies two of Microsoft's most vocal opponents with regard to Web tactics (counting Compaq) no longer has any reservation about giving Microsoft prominent placement.

Microsoft's Live Search will now be the default search for all HP computers shipped for consumer use; and Internet Explorer -- no doubt the default browser -- will carry the Live Search toolbar. Financial terms of the deal, if any, have not been disclosed.

The computer maker will be allowed to customize the toolbar -- for instance, adding in links to HP's services, including Snapfish.

Microsoft has a similar deal with Lenovo regarding Windows Live, penned in March 2007. There, Live services are bundled with new desktops and laptops, and the Windows Live Search toolbar is also installed.

CEO Steve Ballmer has made it clear that his company is becoming more aggressive in seeking out distribution deals that promote its products. Google has a deal with Dell that mirrors much of what Microsoft is doing, and with Dell running second to HP in terms of unit sales, it likely does much to strengthen the Mountain View, Calif. search company's overall position.

The deal marks a business agreement between consenting parties, and as such is probably beyond the need for outside scrutiny. But one cannot help but think back to the late 1990s, when both HP and Compaq played principal roles in the late 1990's during the US vs. Microsoft case.

At the time, HP took issue with the restrictions that the Redmond company put on OEM manufacturers concerning boot sequence and desktop customization. In a letter to Microsoft in 1997, HP said it wanted more control over how it presented its system to its customers.

"In an effort to thwart the practice of OEM customization, Microsoft began, in the spring of 1996, to force OEMs to accept a series of restrictions on their ability to reconfigure the Windows 95 desktop and boot sequence," reads Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's November 1999 Findings of Fact in that historic case. "There were five such restrictions, which were manifested either as amendments to existing Windows 95 licenses or as terms in new Windows 98 licenses. First, Microsoft formalized the prohibition against removing any icons, folders, or 'Start' menu entries that Microsoft itself had placed on the Windows desktop.

"Second, Microsoft prohibited OEMs from modifying the initial Windows boot sequence," Judge Jackson continued. "Third, Microsoft prohibited OEMs from installing programs, including alternatives to the Windows desktop user interface, which would launch automatically upon completion of the initial Windows boot sequence. Fourth, Microsoft prohibited OEMs from adding icons or folders to the Windows desktop that were not similar in size and shape to icons supplied by Microsoft. Finally, when Microsoft later released the Active Desktop as part of Internet Explorer 4.0, it added the restriction that OEMs were not to use that feature to display third-party brands."

Fast-forward to 2008, where we discover that Microsoft could easily accomplish many of the same goals without those restrictions. Of course, being the default still helps: Microsoft recently offered statistics that show that two out of every five users will use the search engine that is set as default on their computers.

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