Microsoft Settles Browser Dispute With EC

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Microsoft has settled its long-standing dispute with the European Commission over the inclusion of Internet Explorer with Windows

Microsoft has finally reached a settlement with the European Commission over the inclusion of the Internet Explorer web browser with the Windows operating system.

Under the terms of the agreement, announced on 16 December, Microsoft will install an automatic “ballot screen” that will let Windows users choose between 12 different browsers.

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The European Commission, the law enforcement body of the European Union responsible for antitrust initiatives, had originally suggested over the summer that Windows 7 would have to ship in Europe without Internet Explorer 8 installed. Seemingly anxious to avoid having to produce a standalone European version of Windows, Microsoft suggested in August that it would install the ballot screen allowing choice between IE 8 and rival browsers.

A sample screen provided by Microsoft at the time showed rival browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome given the same amount of onscreen real estate as Internet Explorer. While the strategy initially carried some risk for Microsoft, given that it announced the strategy before the commission completed its review of the proposal, the commission seemed publicly willing to put the ballot-screen offer before consumers.

That was before reports in November suggesting that Mozilla, Opera and Google would all ask the Commission for last-minute changes to the offer. At issue, apparently, was the concern on the part of those competitors that Microsoft would somehow utilise the ballot screen to give itself an unfair advantage.

Online reports circulating in early December indicated that Microsoft had agreed to make its rivals’ sought-after changes to the ballot screen, although details were kept largely under wraps until the finalisation of the deal between Microsoft and the European Commission on 16 December.

“Today, the Commission has resolved a serious competition concern in a key market for the development of the Internet, namely the market for web browsers,” Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for Competition Policy, said in prepared remarks for a press conference in Brussels. “More than 100 million European computer users stand to benefit from the Commission’s decision today. An even higher number will benefit over the five year lifetime of the commitments made binding on Microsoft with today’s decision.”

Under the terms of the decision, the Windows 7 ballot screen will display 12 web browsers that run on Windows. “Membership of this list will be determined by usage share in the European Economic area,” Kroes added. “Microsoft is also prohibited from circumventing free and effective browser choice by any contractual, technical or other means.”

In addition, Microsoft has been ordered by the Commission to report, first within six months and then annually, on the implementation of its ballot screen. Microsoft will also be “obliged” to adjust that implementation should the Commission feel it necessary.

The ballot screen is due to go into effect in mid-March 2010.

“The measures approved today reflect multiple rounds of input from industry participants relating to competition in web browser software and interoperability between various Microsoft products and competing products,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s senior vice president and general counsel, wrote in a statement.


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