- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2009

BRUSSELS | European Union regulators said Wednesday they were preparing to settle a long and costly antitrust battle with Microsoft Corp. with a deal to give Windows users a choice of Web browsers.

Microsoft promised the changes after the EU charged it with monopoly abuse for tying the Internet Explorer browser to the Windows operating system installed on most of the world’s desktop computers.

Microsoft’s general counsel, Brad Smith, said the EU announcement was “a big step” toward ending its antitrust woes in Europe and would allow the company to focus on European regulatory approval for “our agreement with Yahoo; that is objective No. 1.” In July, Yahoo agreed to let Microsoft handle its searches as part of a 10-year deal.

The European Commission said it would on Friday formally seek feedback from computer manufacturers, software companies and consumers on Microsoft’s offer to allow users to pick one of 12 browsers when they install Windows. They have a month to respond to regulators.

If the feedback is positive, the EU could accept Microsoft’s offer, which would two months later turn into a legally binding settlement to last five years. A settlement would end the EU antitrust case on browsers without adding to the $2.5 billion in fines that the company has already racked up.

Mr. Smith said the company had made numerous changes to an initial offer made in July after extensive discussions with regulators over the last month. Regulators were scathing about earlier offers, among which was Microsoft’s announcement in June that it might strip browsers entirely from new European versions of Windows to avoid any antitrust problems.

EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said “Microsoft’s commitments would indeed address our competition concerns” and they would have a “direct and immediate impact on the market.”

“It would empower all current and future users of Windows in Europe to choose which browser they wished to use,” she said.

She also said she trusted Microsoft to offer developers more interoperability information — data used by other companies to create programs that work on Windows — in a separate deal that will not be enforced by regulators.

“I trust Microsoft. I had contact with (CEO) Steve Ballmer; the (investigation) team is in close contact so there can’t be a misunderstanding here,” Ms. Kroes said. “It’s the result of a long discussion over a long period.”

European users of Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 — due to launch Oct. 22 — will automatically be shown a screen explaining what Web browsers are and then get a choice of “tell me more” buttons to give them details on what each browser can do.

They can then pick several browsers — listed in alphabetical order — to install along with or instead of Internet Explorer. They can come back to that screen later to change their browser choice.


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