Way to go, Paul: It seems I just confused the issue further with yesterday's boot-up screen article. Several people wrote me today with a further clarification, and I appreciate all the mail I got about this. One of the better notes I got was from Glenn Fincher, who used to work for Intergraph. Here's what Glenn had to say about the subject:
The original reason for the current agreements between Microsoft and the hardware manufacturers came about because of (usually low-end commodity market) OEM's adding their own "shell" on top of Windows. Machines from Acer and Packard Bell in particular came with Windows 3.x preloaded but automatically booted into the OEM's own shell which was usually nothing more than a graphical menu structure which the OEM felt was more user
friendly than Windows' own user interface. Users of these machines were thus shielded from ever seeing or using Windows itself. Prior to the release of Windows NT 4.0, Microsoft changed all the OEM agreements to specifically disallow this complete shell replacement for "out of the box" experience. OEM's were still allowed to change bitmaps and the like (and they usually added their own logos) but they were not allowed to replace the entire shell with their own home-grown version. Note that OEM's could always add additional software including shells and allow users to easily change to those shells if they desired. It is/was only the initial screen display that was covered by the contract.
It is these specific contracts that result in Microsoft requiring OEM's to "include" Internet Explorer with Windows 95. It's part of the "out of the box" experience and it is these contracts that the DOJ is trying to squash.
Well there you go. Sorry I confused the matter further.