Bob Massey, CEO at CompuServe, Steve Case, America Online's CEO, and Edward Bennett, Prodigy's CEO, have penned and signed a letter to Bill Gates which urges him to unbundle Microsoft Network (MSN) from Windows 95.
The letter begins with "Dear Bill" and reminds Gates that the three CEOs have previously expressed their concerns about the bundling issue in the past.
The letter reads: "Now, at this late hour, we urge you one more time to reconsider" and closes with: "Do the right thing for the industry and the interests of millions of consumers. Unbundle Microsoft Network from Windows 95."
This unprecedented level of cooperation between the three largest online services in the world contains no threat of legal action.
Brian Ek, vice president of public affairs at Prodigy, told infoHIGHWAY, "For customers who purchase Windows 95, MSN is presented as a subscribable option. The problem we are addressing is that computer manufacturers such as Gateway, Dell, Compaq and all the others, are required to load MSN as part of the agreement to sell a system with Windows 95 installed. It is with this matter that we disagree."
Ek continued, "In the past we have had to pay to have our products bundled with computer systems. Now, these manufacturers have no choice in the matter. We consider this an unfair advantage."
nline programs such as Prodigy, AOL and CompuServe are "buried four levels deep" in MSN. When a user installs one of these three programs on existing Windows, a program group is created and the necessary icons are readily displayed. Ek says this does not occur with Windows 95.
Suggesting two different solutions, Ek said, "We think MSN should be unbundled from Windows 95 or equal offerings of our services be provided, so that consumers can make their own decision."
The letter continues: "You (Bill) have publicly stated your goal of making Windows an open architecture and giving all developers access to it on a non-discriminatory basis. However, this goal will be undermined if you bundle MSN -- and only MSN -- with Windows 95."
Towards the end, Case, Bennett and Massey write: "Bill, you, more than anyone would understand the power that comes with controlling the operating system market. With dominant position comes added responsibilities. Primary among those is the need to safeguard the spirit of competition and innovation that has caused explosive growth in our industry, and have been central to your own success and prosperity."
Ek also told infoHIGHWAY, "When MSN, an application is being automatically included, we believe it reduces choice. Windows is like the dialtone of the computer industry. Is it right that every time you pick-up the phone you have one service from one provider pushed in your direction and all of the others made difficult to find?"
Does this letter hint at possible last minute legal action to prevent the delivery of Windows 95 with MSN? No one is saying. While the letter is firm and direct, it contains no reference to further action on the part of the online services.