A senior Microsoft Corp. executive says the company is concerned that uncertified third-party software loaded onto new computers by manufacturers could hurt the launch of consumer versions of its Windows Vista operating system later this month.

In a discussion Tuesday night at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the Microsoft official told CBC News Online, on condition of anonymity, that the world's largest software maker is frustrated by legal shackles that prevent the company from restricting what kinds of software major computer makersinstall on new PCs.

"We can't do anything about it because it would be illegal," the executive said inreference to restrictions placed on the company following a U.S. federal anti-trust lawsuit against the company.

Computer makers paid to add software

The concern arises from third-party software that hardware makers commonly install on new computers in exchange for a fee, many ofwhichhave not been tested andcertified by Microsoft to work with Vista, the executive said. They include things such as links to online services, and demo versions ofprograms.

"We call them craplets," the official said. The term is a contraction of the words "crap" and "applet." An applet is a small computer program or application.

The success of Microsoft's first major revision to its operating system in years could rest on whether or not the uncertified applets cause widespreadmalfunctions in consumer versions of Windows Vista that ship with new PCs starting Jan. 30.

"They could work fine, or they could cause huge problems," the Microsoft source said. "The problem is that we just don't know. And if someone buys a Vista PC and has a problem, they're going to blame Windows."

Tests have shown incompatibility

MDG senior marketing manager Marc Boudreau said Microsoft's concerns are valid. The Canadian computer manufacturer's tests have shown almost 200 older software programs are incompatible with Vista.

MDG has done extensive testing of software on their computers and removed older DVD-writing software they found was incompatible and replaced it with Vista's own software, he said.

Installing software that will appear as a link on the desktop as soon as anew computer is turned on by the owner is a common practice among major PC makersto increase revenue on each machine sold. The PC market's razor-thin margins often leave manufacturers looking for a way to recoup costs through deals like the so-called sponsored links.

The Microsoft executive cited figures that show that even with established operating systems such as Windows XP, a significant number of new PC buyers are willing to pay a service fee to have all third-party software removed so they can have a "clean" system— as many as 30 per cent of new PC buyers at some retail chains.

Computer makers confident

MDG's Boudreausaid their new computers running the consumer versions of Vista will come without any third-party applications except for McAfee Anti-Virus, which has been certifiedas being compatible with Vista.

"We don't have 'bloatware' as we call it," said MDG senior marketing manager Marc Boudreau.

Toshiba Canada product marketing director Todd Smith isn't aware of Microsoft's specific concern but said his company doesn't foresee a problem.

"We're very confident we'll have no issues whatsoever," he said.

A Canadian representativeof Hewlett-Packard said the company has been preparing for Vista and also doesn't think any of its applications will cause an issue. If any program does prove incompatible, however, HP will have upgrades available on their website, the spokesperson said.

Dell computer spokesman Marco Pena said the issue is a concern whenever a new operating system is introduced, but said his company has tested every applet they put on their computer to ensure its Vista compatibility. Dell customers who order onlineare also offered theoption to not have applets pre-installed, he said.

Greg Barber, the vice-president of entertainment and devices with Microsoft Canada, stressed most software won't have issues and echoed Bill Gates's speech on Sunday, in which the company founder said Vista is the most compatible operating system they've ever had.

"More than one and a half million devices will work with Windows Vista and more than 2,000 products will be certified for Windows Vista," said Barber.

"When you have a new version of an operating system you don't have perfect compatibility, but there are 30,000 drivers in Vista that will ship with it. By comparison Windows XP had only 12,000 drivers," he said.

Saleem Khan is reporting from CES in Las Vegas