EU set to end Microsoft dispute next week: sources

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union and Microsoft are likely to end a decade-long dispute next week when EU antitrust regulators will accept the U.S. software company’s amended offer on allowing consumer choice on Internet browsers, sources said.

General view of Microsoft Corporation new headquarters in Issy-les-Moulineaux, near Paris October 6, 2009. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Three people familiar with the situation said the European Commission was expected to approve on Tuesday Microsoft’s plan to make it easier for consumers to choose rival browsers on the firm’s Windows operating system, which is used on a majority of personal computers.

The decision would allow Microsoft to avoid another hefty penalty, after it had been fined a total of 1.68 billion euros ($2.5 billion) by the Commission over charges it breached EU antitrust rules.

Microsoft amended its proposals for the second time after rivals such as Norwegian browser market player Opera and Google complained to the Commission, the EU’s executive arm, that the remedy announced on October 7 would not be effective. [ID:nL7701914] “A decision could come as early as next week during the last meeting of the college of commissioners for this year,” one of the people told Reuters on Monday, adding Microsoft had made two changes.

“The order of the browsers will be randomly presented instead of alphabetically in the original proposal. The presentation of the ballot screen is as neutral as possible,” the person said.

Microsoft shares were down 0.4 percent to $29.87 in mid-session on the Nasdaq.

The Commission said it was assessing Microsoft’s commitments to take into account the market test.

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“The Commission will not accept any commitments unless consumers are ensured a real, viable choice,” Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said.

The Commission had until November 7 sought feedback from Microsoft’s rivals, computer makers and other interested parties on the company’s proposed ballot screen, amended after an informal market test.

Opera, whose 2007 complaint on Microsoft’s tying of its Internet Explorer browser to its Windows operating system had triggered the Commission’s probe, said the changes would benefit users.

“Those two changes, if indeed it appears to be the case, are an improvement on the previous proposal. They are significant and would be helpful to users,” Opera’s Chief Technology Officer Hakon Wium Lie told Reuters.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Rupert Winchester)

$1 = 0.6720 euro