EC Confirms Microsoft Browser Offer In Antitrust Dispute

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The European Commission confirms that Microsoft will offer European users a special edition of Windows 7 will be called the E version

The protracted European Commission-versus-Microsoft antitrust case – a thorn in both parties’ sides since the Clinton administration – may soon be coming to a resolution.

The EC confirmed last Friday that the world’s largest software maker, in a good-faith effort to resolve the nagging case, has offered to change its upcoming Windows 7 operating system to provide European users for the first time with a choice of web browsers. The special edition of Windows 7 will be called the E version.

As Microsoft owns more than 90 percent of the operating system market with Windows, for years it has been able to dictate the use of its own pre-packaged, default browser. Criticism of this competition-crushing policy has had many users who do not favour Internet Explorer (IE) up in arms, leading to the EC’s antitrust lawsuit.

Microsoft has proposed a new “ballot screen” that would come up when Windows 7 is being installed and ask users which browser they prefer from a series of choices. Microsoft said that will make it easy to install another web browser, set it as a default and disable IE.

“While the commission solicits public comment and considers this proposal, we are committed to ensuring that we are in full compliance with European law and our obligations under the 2007 Court of First Instance ruling,” Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel and senior vice president, said in a company statement.

“We currently are providing PC manufacturers in Europe with E versions of Windows 7, which we believe are fully compliant with European law. PC manufacturers building machines for the European market will continue to be required to ship E versions of Windows 7 until such time that the commission fully reviews our proposals and determines whether they satisfy our obligations under European law.”

The EC is expected to consider the proposal and act on it within the next several weeks.

“If the commission approves this new proposal, Microsoft will begin work at that time to begin implementation of it with PC manufacturers,” Smith said.

There was no indication as to whether Microsoft will change its policy in the US and in other geographical markets.

Ever since Microsoft’s IE was launched in 1995, it has been the default – and only – web browser choice in all versions of Windows. Browser makers, the open-source community and industry associations joined the European Union (EU) in protesting at this closed-door policy, complaining that the browser and the operating system are separate entities, and that browser choice should not be dictated to a Windows buyer.

Security problems with earlier versions of IE only fanned the flames of the protests.

Microsoft, on the other hand, argued that the operating system and its browser were joined at the hip and could not operate correctly without each other.

The legal tussle started as a mere complaint from Novell over Microsoft’s licensing practices in 1993. In 2001, this resulted in the EU ordering Microsoft to give certain information about its server products and release a version of Microsoft Windows without Windows Media Player.

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