Microsoft proposes letting users in EU choose browser
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Microsoft sought on Friday to end a long-running dispute with EU antitrust regulators as it offered to let users choose their own browser and to provide more interoperability information to third parties.
The European Commission, which polices competition in the 27-country European Union, has to date slapped fines totaling 1.68 billion euros ($2.39 billion) on the U.S. software giant for infringing EU antitrust rules.
In its latest charge on January 15, the Commission accused Microsoft of seeking to thwart rivals by bundling the company's Web browser with its Windows PC operating system, thereby harming innovation and reducing consumer choice.
And in January last year, the EU executive had launched a probe on a complaint by industry body ECIS alleging that Microsoft had refused to disclose information that would allow third parties to design programs compatible with its products.
After extensive talks, Microsoft has made two offers in a bid to settle the two antitrust cases, the Commission said, welcoming the move.
Microsoft said its proposals aimed to allay EU antitrust concerns and end a decade of legal issues.
"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," Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said in a statement.
"This would mark a big step forward ... and would be good news for European consumers and our partners in the industry," he said.
The Commission said Microsoft had proposed to install a "ballot screen" that would allow users to set up rival Web browsers on Windows 7 and disable Internet Explorer if they wanted, a remedy the Commission had suggested in its January 2009 charge sheet.
The newest version of the Windows operating system will be launched in October.
"The proposal recognizes 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," the Commission said in a statement.
Microsoft had said last month it planned to sell Windows 7 in Europe with no browser at all, drawing a frosty response from the Commission, which said it wanted more -- not less -- choice for consumers.
The EU executive also said on Friday that the company planned to disclose more interoperability information related to Windows and Windows Server.
The Commission will investigate both proposals before making a decision, it said, giving no timeline.
ECIS, whose members include IBM, Nokia, Oracle Corp and Sun Microsystems, welcomed Microsoft's proposals.
"In principle this is a good solution. But the devil will be in the details," ECIS spokesman Thomas Vinje said.
Norwegian browser maker Opera, whose complaints triggered the Commission's case against Microsoft, called the proposals a significant development.
"We think this could actually work out. It is important that users be given a genuine choice among browsers," Chief Technology Officer Hakon Wium Lie told Reuters.
Analysts have said the ballot box proposal could be a boon for competing browser makers such as Google, the Mozilla Foundation and Opera.
Internet Explorer is used for about 60 percent of global Internet traffic, Mozilla's Firefox about 30 percent, and Opera 4 percent, just ahead of Google and Apple Inc's Safari, according to Web analytics firm StatCounter.