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Microsoft Offers To Distribute Other People’s Browsers in Europe

It's not something Microsoft wants to do but the company finds itself over a barrel

To get the European Commission off its back and avoid another mammoth fine, Microsoft has offered to distribute other people's browsers with Windows, exactly what Opera, Google and Mozilla want.

It's not something Microsoft wants to do but the company finds itself over a barrel.

To avoid making such a concession and still be legally compliant, Microsoft, which had argued during its antitrust trial in the United States a generation ago that the browser and operating system couldn't be technically separated, said on June 11 that it would distribute Windows in Europe without any browser at all, leaving people to download whatever they wanted.

This so-called "Windows E" was not what the solution the EC wanted. It's been pushing for the ballot screen that Microsoft's rivals want.

Consumers and OEMs could disable Internet Explorer from this screen and install competing web browsers, setting one of them as a default.

Microsoft said it would e-mail all existing XP and Vista users in Europe asking them if they wanted to install a different browser.

A Microsoft nightmare come true.

Where the Commission shrugged off Windows E, Friday it put out a statement "welcoming" Microsoft's "proposal" and said it "will now investigate its practical effectiveness in terms of ensuring genuine consumer choice."

Under threat of still another antitrust investigation, the Commission also got Microsoft to make a further concession and promise to open up more of its secrets to promote interoperability between third-party software and Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange and SharePoint.

The EC again claims it will have to study the remedy before it "reaches any conclusion as to the next steps."

Microsoft has published details of the proposals here..

Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith, who says the remedies "involve significant change by Microsoft" and "enforceable warranty commitments," indicates there that Microsoft means to go ahead with Windows E "until such time that the Commission fully reviews our proposals and determines whether they satisfy our obligations under European law."

Smith anticipates that the Commission will solicit public comment.

Microsoft, which is moving to GA Windows 7 on October 22, would ship the ballot screen as an update. It would include the top five browsers by market share.

It's not a forever thing. The ballot screen would only be in place for five years from the date of the settlement, according to the Wall Street Journal.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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