Microsoft Agrees to Minor Modifications of Windows

By Mark Berniker

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Microsoft Corp. said it will make some changes to its Windows operating system in response to a government request to do so.

The changes to the operating system will make it simpler for consumers to use rival software products for browsing Web pages, listening to music on competitive media players, and also to use other e-mail and instant messaging programs.

Microsoft said it will include a new icon, which will be more visually prominent to users, so that they can make changes, if they are interested in using some competitive software products. The company will go one step further, providing detailed instructions how to make any changes to the company's default settings.

Microsoft's modifications to its operating system were created as part of ongoing discussions of implementing its antitrust agreement with the Justice Department.

Microsoft changes are part of its "Set Program Access and Defaults," which enables users to choose which software programs they would like to use on a regular basis. Among the applications that users can more easily adjust, include e-mail and instant messaging programs, as well as which browser and media player defaults users prefer.

Microsoft has already made some changes as part of its Service Pack, which users can download from its Web page. And the latest changes are part of an effort by the Justice Department to make sure the company is complying with the provisions of the consent decree it has agreed to with the government.

One component of the latest changes by Microsoft will allow users to remove the company's Internet Explorer browser through a simple process from the "start menu."

Microsoft's latest changes could provide a boost for some of its competitors, including AOL Time Warner and its Netscape Navigator Web browser and Opera Software ASA and its browser offering. The changes also are a shot in the arms for RealNetworks Inc. and its RealPlayer audio and video downloading software.

But Microsoft still controls the market share for both browsers and media players, and these latest modifications are not expected to create major shifts in the market.