Startup could allow ISPs to steal space on Windows |  Operating Systems

A startup with a key patent that gives it control over space on the Windows-dominated desktop says it has developed a product that will allow Microsoft Corp. competitors to squeeze their way on to PCs, just as AOL Time Warner Inc. plans to do through deals with PC makers.

XSides Corp., a Seattle-based startup, has built an application that will allow potential partners such as AOL Time Warner or other ISPs (Internet service providers) to secure a space on a user's PC without facing legal or competitive pressure from Microsoft. The technology is effectively a start menu that runs independent of the operating system.

XSides' technology expands the space around the edges of the display of PCs running Linux, Windows or any other operating system. The company is also developing versions of the technology for set-top boxes and PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants). What it creates is a display area around the operating system interface, resizing Windows, for instance, to a new dimension -- a function that is built into the operating system.

The technology comes with good timing. AOL Time Warner is dealing with PC manufacturers to rent space on desktops running the Windows operating system, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

Media and technology giant AOL Time Warner is taking advantage of a recent concession by Microsoft that allows computer manufacturers more flexibility in configuring the desktop, including allowing third-party icons and applications to show up when a user turns on a computer.

An AOL Time Warner spokeswoman would not confirm any of the details reported by the Post but did say the company is planning to take advantage of Microsoft's concession to open up the desktop.

"Certainly we think consumers should have a choice of services on the desktop," said Kathy McKiernan [cq], a spokeswoman for AOL Time Warner, in an interview. "AOL is interested in talking to OEMs about compensating them for promotional rights on the desktop that Microsoft hasn't allowed until now."

Microsoft's Windows operating system, which is used on more than 90 percent of the world's PCs, has traditionally controlled the real estate on the desktop through relationships with computer manufacturers. AOL Time Warner reportedly is asking PC manufacturers to include icons, pop-up notices and other images on desktops. The Post reported that AOL will pay manufacturers US$35 per ever customer that signs up for AOL's Internet service.

AOL Time Warner has a range of technological options for finding its way to the desktop. One possibility could be with the application xSides has built.

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