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13th Apr 2024

Microsoft browser battle draws to a close

  • Microsoft has clashed with Ms Kroes on several occasions over the last five years (Photo: Microsoft)

An important chapter in the European Commission's decade-long battle with software giant Microsoft appeared to be drawing to a close on Wednesday (7 October) following an announcement of a deal over web browsers.

The Commission has long complained that Microsoft's bundling of its Internet Explorer web browser with its Windows operating system has given it an unfair market distribution and clear advantage over competitors.

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But the EU executive now appears happy with the roughly 20 changes that Microsoft has made to a July proposal to tackle the issue, with the new deal based around an explanatory screen offering users a choice between different browsers.

"Without choice, competition will die, and without competition, innovation will die," declared competition commissioner Neelie Kroes, who has been a major thorn in Microsoft's side since she took up the post 2004.

The Dutch commissioner who has slapped the US firm with over €1.2 billion in fines in the past appeared confident that this new agreement will work.

"I'm absolutely of the opinion that this is a trustful deal that we're making," Ms Kroes told journalists. "I trust Microsoft. I have contact with Steve Ballmer [Microsoft's CEO]. There can't be a misunderstanding."

Browser choice

Under the deal, Windows Update will automatically download a ballot screen to European users of Windows 7, Windows Vista and Windows XP, with text explaining what browsers are.

Users will then be asked to select from a list of 12 browsers, including the five market leaders Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Google Chrome and Opera.

The current agreement will now undergo one month of "market testing", during which the industry is able to submit suggestions for further changes.

Following the trial month, the Commission may then decide to make the commitment legally binding for five years and take no further action against Microsoft related to browsers.

As well as providing a degree of closure to Ms Kroes as she nears the end of her term, the deal will also help the software firm concentrate on upcoming issues such as the European release of its new browser - Windows 7 - that launches worldwide on Oct. 22.

The company's legal team will also be able to now turn most of its attention to clearing a proposed Yahoo search deal with US and European anti-trust regulators.

"We were very pleased that the European Commission announced this morning that it's going to move forward with proposals that we at Microsoft have developed with them," said Brad Smith, Microsoft's chief negotiator.

"This is a big step towards closing a long chapter in Microsoft's ant-itrust controversies in Europe," he said.

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