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Microsoft Proposes Browser 'Ballot' to European Commission

Microsoft issued a proposal last week that attempts to address European Commission (EC) concerns about its bundling of Internet Explorer (IE) with Windows.

The EC considers such a product combination to be anticompetitive in the European Union because Windows already has a near monopoly grip on the operating system market. The Commission initiated a statement in January alleging that Microsoft had illegally excluded other browser competitors from the market.

In response, Microsoft is proposing to continue to include IE in Windows 7, but also provide a "ballot screen" that will allow users to install competing browsers, as well as remove IE. In addition, original equipment manufacturers will be able to install whichever browser they wish on new PCs. There's also language in Microsoft's proposal that states Microsoft will not retaliate against OEMs that install competing browsers over Microsoft's IE.

The EC is currently considering Microsoft's ballot screen proposal, as well as second one from Microsoft on interoperability.

Not every browser will make the ballot screen list, according to Microsoft's proposal.

"The Ballot Screen will be populated with the most widely-used web browsers that run on Windows with a usage share of equal to or more than 0.5% in the EEA [European Economic Area] as measured semi-annually by a source commonly agreed between Microsoft and the European Commission (see paragraph 13), but not more than ten (not counting different versions of one and the same browser)," the proposal explains.

In addition, the browser maker has to be "actively" offering the browser for it to be included on the ballot screen.

Although Microsoft took actions earlier to make IE "removable" through a control in Windows 7, that action doesn't seem to have appeased the EC.

"As the Commission indicated in June (see MEMO/09/272 ), the Commission was concerned that, should Microsoft's conduct prove to have been abusive, Microsoft's intention to separate Internet Explorer from Windows, without measures such as a ballot screen, would not necessarily have achieved greater consumer choice in practice and would not have been an effective remedy," the EC explained in a press release.

In an earlier case, the EC compelled Microsoft to unbundle Windows Media Player from Windows. However, Microsoft ended up selling two versions of Windows in the European Union -- one with Media Player included and one without it. People may have preferred the inclusive product, so the EC's remedy may have failed to broaden media player competition in that case.

Microsoft currently has plans to distribute an "E" (for Europe) edition of Windows 7 when the operating system is released on Oct. 22. The E edition will not automatically install IE when Windows 7 is added to a PC.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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