If your plan is to strong-arm customers into offering your products exclusively, you had better give them something people want to buy. With Microsoft and Windows Vista, such is not the case, and Hewlett-Packard isn't taking it lying down.

HP, the world's number one PC supplier in terms of volume sales, appears to be leading a new anti-Vista revolution, of a sort. In an interesting article yesterday in BusinessWeek, Aaron Ricadela reports about "HP's 'End Run' Around Windows," and what a team inside the company is doing to improve the appeal of Vista by making it easier to use.

Known inside HP as the "Customer Experience Group," the team is developing technology that will allow users to access their digital photos and movies, as well as other common features using a touch-sensitive screen. In the article, Ricadela quotes Phil McKinney, chief technology officer in HP's personal systems group: "Our customers are looking for insanely simple technology where they don't have to fight with the technology to get the task done." Could he mean that Vista isn't insanely simple to use? "For us, it's about innovating on top of Vista." So it would appear.

This would not be the first time HP sought to improve Microsoft's user interface. The company through the 1990s included software that ran on top of the Windows versions of the day and presented a super-simplified interface to which the user could launch their applications with buttons. The term "topware" comes to mind for this type of software; maybe someone could help me out with that.

And a Windows succession of sorts has been attempted before. Also back in the mid-1990s, when Linux started coming into wide prominence, companies like Dell and Gateway wanted to start offering a Linux option on their server-level systems. Microsoft balked, threatening to cut off the supply of Windows licenses to those companies if they didn't halt the practice. Unethical, yes. But effective. There's also news that Linux is at the heart of an new HP operating system strategy. Would Microsoft dare such a tactic today?

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I believe the US and EU courts found these practices predatory and illegal and ordered Microsoft to stop, so no, Microsoft could not get away with the same tactics today, which is part of the problem it's having right now. It can no longer bully the market into buying its products.

Also, I think the touch screen will a big part of Windows 7. Remember Bill Gates' speech a while back about the end of the need for a keyboard. I actually wrote about this in the post, Window 7 and the Incredible Shrinking Keyboard (http://www.daniweb.com/blogs/entry2528.html). HP is just a bit ahead of the game.

Finally, that HP thinks it needs to improve what Microsoft has done speaks volumes to the troubles users have with it.