The European Union will begin testing an antitrust proposal from Microsoft on Web browser and interoperability that makes it likely the two will put to bed by year’s end the antitrust issues Microsoft is facing in Europe.
The European Commission, the EU’s administrative arm, said today it will begin formal market testing after the company’s competitors and PC makers made comments to the commission. As Microsoft proposed in July, the company will offer a ballot screen to PC users so they can change their Web browser.
“Microsoft’s proposal in particular recognizes the principle that consumers should be given a free and effective choice of web browser,” said European Commissioner Neelie Kroes at a news conference today. “It would empower all current and future users of Windows in Europe to choose which browser they wished to use. It would therefore have a direct and immediate impact on the market.
“We’re very pleased by today’s decision. We welcome the European Commission’s announcement,” said Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith in a news conference. “We welcome the opportunity to move forward with the next step on interoperability as well.”
To ensure choice for Web browsers, Microsoft will ensure over the next five years that:
- PC makers can install any browser and make that the default browser.
- Allow PC makers to turn the browser on and off.
- PC users who use Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s browser, as a default browser will receive a ballot screen that allows them to choose from 11 other browsers.
The last item means that the same versions of Windows 7 will ship worldwide on Oct. 22. Windows 7, Vista and XP users will receive the ballot screen through a software update. Here is a link to an image of what the browser screen would look like.
Microsoft has also agreed to take interoperability steps to make sure other developers’ software works with Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange and Sharepoint.
Europe began investigating Microsoft for violating antitrust law in the browser market in 2008 following a complaint from browser developer Opera.
It was key for Microsoft to resolve antitrust issues in Europe. The Europe Commission fined Microsoft 899 million euros, $1.4 billion, in 2008 for not complying with pricing rules in an earlier antitrust ruling.
Update 12:38 p.m.: Opera is not satisfied with the new proposal, but it sounds like they are willing to work with it. The company put out a statement saying, “The proposal announced today will not effectively remedy the abuse. But it can be made effective with modest changes.”
(Photo of Brad Smith: Microsoft)