Microsoft opens Windows to browser competition

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Microsoft opens Windows to browser competition

Microsoft has said that it will offer European Windows users a choice of browser as a way of settling its ongoing legal feud with the EU, confirming earlier hints.

Under the proposal European users would be able to download a plug-in which will open a ballot screen, with up to ten competing browsers with a market share of over 0.5 per cent. The browser picked would then be the default browser for the machine (more details here.)

The proposal also gives a commitment not to take any punitive actions against OEMs who ship products with rival browsers preinstalled and guarantees not to cut off any OEM without a 30 consultation period.

“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,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, in a statement.

“We believe that if ultimately accepted, this proposal will fully address the European competition law issues relating to the inclusion of Internet Explorer in Windows and interoperability with our high-volume products.”

“This would mark a big step forward in addressing a decade of legal issues and would be good news for European consumers and our partners in the industry.”

The proposal states that commitments made in the proposal would are good for five years after any agreement has been reached.

“The proposal recognises the principle that consumers should be given a free and effective choice of web browser, and sets out a means – the ballot screen - by which Microsoft believes that can be achieved,” said the EU in a statement.

“The Commission welcomes this proposal, and will now investigate its practical effectiveness in terms of ensuring genuine consumer choice.”

Microsoft says it will take 3-6 months to develop the plug-in if the EU accepts its proposal. In the meantime it will continue to ship Windows E, which has no browser.

This would mean that even if the EU agreed tomorrow it would be almost impossible to have the system in place in time for the launch of Windows 7 in 22 October.

Mitchell Baker, chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation, said the proposal left serious questions unanswered, notably if the ballot screen would be open to all European Windows users and if it applied to OEM machines.

Microsoft’s statement says their proposal will allow” people to “easily install competing browsers from the Web.” It’s not clear yet if the user can set another browser as the default browser — that is, the browser that opens up when one selects a URL,” he wrote on the Mozilla blog.

“If the ballot screen doesn’t allow one to make something other than IE the default then the so-called “remedy” looks pretty flimsy.”

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