Well, it was only a matter of time: Gateway announced on Wednesday that it would be offering certain customers the ability to install Netscape Navigator instead of Internet Explorer on new Windows 98 PCs. Additionally, Gateway will be bypassing Microsoft's Windows 98 introductory program, which launches in a window when the system first boots. Instead, Gateway will offer its own introductory program. The most incredible thing is that these changes were made with the permission of Microsoft, which is feeling the heat from antitrust lawsuits.

There's a catch, however: only those customers that sign up for Gateway's personal lease program will be able to take advantage of these changes. The lease program--dubbed Your:)Ware--lets consumers lease a Gateway PC. Previously, only corporate customers could lease Gateway computers. Other PC sellers, such as Dell, have offered personal leases for some time.

"For the very first use \[a customer\] goes to a gateway.net screen \[instead of a Microsoft screen\]," said Joe Burke, senior VP of global business development for Gateway. After the opening screen, customers are given three options: sign-up for Gateway's $14.95 a month ISP, use Internet Explorer, or use Netscape Navigator. Gateway says that Netscape gets "no royalty or bounty kick-back" for being included.

Separately, Gateway also claims it will be the first hardware company to offer Windows 98 to its customers. Officials say Gateway PCs with Windows 98 could begin shipping as soon as next week