America Online Inc. is reportedly in talks with low-cost computer retailer MicroWorkz to offer its Internet service on computers that are running other operating systems besides Microsoft’s Windows.
The preliminary discussions occurred Thursday as the last witness was testifying in the federal government’s landmark antitrust trial against Microsoft. Microsoft has argued AOL’s acquisition of Netscape Communications shows competition in the industry is working.
MSNBC, which first reported the talks, said AOL initiated the discussions in an effort to recruit some of the millions of Americans who have yet to buy personal computers.
MicroWorkz confirmed it is talking with AOL about a “cross-marketing arrangement,” but would not elaborate. AOL would not comment.
Speculation is that AOL would either buy MicroWorkz computers and sell them to its subscribers at a low cost or give them away. It’s also possible the deal would only involve promotion of AOL’s service.
If AOL does a deal to put its software on non-Microsoft PCs, it would contradict earlier statements made by AOL executive David Colburn in the Microsoft trial. Earlier, he said there’s no future in building a PC with an alternative to Windows and said there were no current plans to do so.
The issue came up in the antitrust trial Thursday when Microsoft lawyers showed Colburn’s testimony on the issue along with news reports about preliminary discussions to U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who’s presiding over the case.
Government lawyers said later that the event will not harm their case.