PC makers are posting 'for rent' signs on the Windows XP desktop, taking advantage of a recent move by Microsoft to loosen its grip on what icons and advertisements appear on the startup screen of a new Windows PC. But industry watchers say too much clutter could send consumers packing.

Computer makers now have control over the screen real estate on new computers running the Windows operating system, a power claimed by Microsoft until July when the software maker offered PC manufacturers more flexibility over such decisions, under pressure from its ongoing anti-competition battle with the US government.

AOL Time Warner was the first to announce that it would take advantage of Microsoft's new flexibility agreement. It brokered a deal with Compaq last week. Compaq says it's had a "flood" of companies approaching it to make similar deals.

But PC makers say they are worried that adding too many icons, links to internet services or advertisements runs the risk of alienating customers. Many agree with Microsoft that consumers would rather have a so-called clean desktop, where icons and folders would remain in the Windows Start menu rather than on the startup screen.

"It's got to be something that's not a clutter," Rick Frizzell of Compaq said. "If there's too much on the desktop, then you may lose the value of what you were after in the first place."