EU: Microsoft agrees to unbundle Explorer from Windows

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(AP) -- Microsoft Corp. will offer computer users a choice of rival Web browsers to ward off new European Union antitrust fines, EU regulators and Microsoft said Friday.

Microsoft said its proposal, if accepted by the European Commission, would "fully address" antitrust worries over its and "would mark a big step forward in addressing a decade of legal issues."

The EU has charged the company with monopoly abuse for tying the Internet Explorer browser to the Windows operating system installed on most of the world's desktop computers.

It welcomed Microsoft's suggestions and said it will evaluate the proposal and seek input from other browser makers and computer companies before making a decision. If approved, the proposal could be legally binding for five years.

On the browser case, Microsoft is suggesting that users of Windows XP, Vista or its latest release Windows 7 who have Internet Explorer set as the default browser would see a Web page prompting them to pick from five of the most popular browsers in Europe. Existing Windows users would get the ballot screen from a software update.

Microsoft said the list of browsers would be reviewed twice a year based on usage data for the previous six months. Microsoft's browser is the most widely used worldwide, but Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox is gaining in popularity.

Mozilla and Google Inc. - which recently released a browser, Chrome - are supporting the case against Microsoft.

Windows would still include Internet Explorer, but users would be able to disable it. Computer manufacturers could also choose to install other browsers, set them as default and disable Internet Explorer.

The company had said in June that it would remove its browser from Windows entirely to avoid antitrust problems. Instead, it planned to give Internet Explorer away as a download or on a disc. EU regulators slammed the idea, saying the 5 percent of people who buy Windows off the shelf wouldn't have a real choice of browsers. Most people buy the software pre-installed on a computer assembled by manufacturers such as Dell Inc. or Hewlett-Packard Co.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, said in a statement that until EU regulators rule on the company's proposal, it will continue to require PC makers to sell computers with the browserless Windows 7 "E" version in the region. Windows 7 will go on sale on Oct. 22.

The ballot screen that Microsoft is proposing is close to what regulators called for in January when they asked Microsoft to offer several browsers on Windows. Under that proposal, PC companies would have been responsible for building the browser-choosing technology. That could have conflicted with existing deals in which browser and Web search companies pay to have their products set as the default on new PCs.

Under Microsoft's plan, the software maker would handle the technology.

The original ballot-screen proposal was also backed by Norwegian mobile Internet browser maker Opera Software ASA, which triggered the EU antitrust case by complaining that Microsoft was unfairly using its power as the dominant supplier of operating system software to squeeze out rivals.

Opera lawyer Thomas Vinje welcomed Microsoft's announcement Friday but said "the devil is in the detail" on how far it would go to calm antitrust fears.

Offering the ballot screen to existing Windows users "will change the world," he said, because it would encourage developers to make cross-platform software based on Web standards instead of tailoring their work to Microsoft software.

Microsoft has said it fully complies with existing Web standards.

Regulators will also examine a new offer by Microsoft to guarantee that the technical information it shares with developers who make Windows-compatible programs is accurate and complete. The information-sharing and warranty proposal aims to settle a lengthy antitrust row that has racked up nearly euro1.7 million ($2.42 million) in EU fines for Microsoft.

Smith said this involves "significant change by Microsoft" and was based on long talks with EU regulators.

"We believe that if ultimately accepted, this proposal will fully address the European competition law issues relating to the inclusion of in and interoperability with our high-volume products," he said.

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User comments

Jul 24, 2009
I strongly dislike Microsoft, but even I respect their right to bundle whatever software they like with their operating system - if you don't like what software comes with the operating system, use another operating system.

Petty, ignorant children.

Jul 24, 2009
agreed. its their software, they spent the time and money programming it for consumers to buy it and now we are going to fine them because we dont like it. buy another operating system cry babies if you dont like it. and while your out buying that, you should buy a towel to wipe the sand out of your v*ginas.

Jul 24, 2009
Antitrust and monopolies are the reasons why we can't just say "You put work into it, thus it's okay."

Microsoft has gained a ton of software market share and is ABUSING it to gain more. They are using UNETHICAL business practices to discourage competition.

And competition is the greatest aspect of a free market.

Jul 24, 2009
agreed. its their software, they spent the time and money programming it for consumers to buy it and now we are going to fine them because we dont like it.

You don't understand what you are talking about. The rules against monopoly are there to protect consumers. If you think monopoly is good for anyone but the company in question you are extremely ignorant. No one forces m$ to comply or pay fines, they have 3 options and its up to them what they choose to do:
1. stop selling their shitty product in EU
2. keep paying fines
3. comply with the rules.

Jul 24, 2009
I don't understand it. You buy windows, you get their other programs (windows media player, IE, etc). Why is this a problem? If you don't like WMP or IE, you're not forced to use them, go download chrome or firefox.

Jul 25, 2009
I agree with Bob_Kob it is so easy to download and set as default any browser you like. It does seem strange that Opera should complain about unfair competition while getting the EU bullies to fight for them.

Jul 26, 2009
Even when you download and install a web browser other IE you often still have to use IE or an IE clone within the other browser to communicate with M$ -- that's not fair in my opinion!

Jul 26, 2009
Microsoft has gained a ton of software market share and is ABUSING it to gain more. They are using UNETHICAL business practices to discourage competition.

Are you on mushrooms? There's nothing at all unethical or abusive about bundling applications with your OS.

And competition is the greatest aspect of a free market.

This is just another instance in a long line of anti-trust regulation being used to stiffle competition.

Jul 26, 2009
In this one particular instance, I disagree it's particularly stifling competition. Consider the explosion of browsers: http://www.webdev...ows.php3

Without the DoJ settlement, attempting to use a competing browser on an MS operating system would have proven to be very difficult.

As Nartoon pointed out, although not a prevalent as it once was, often MS requires IE only to access its other products. I also remember IE aggressively attempting to take back control to remain the default in all cases.

What happen was that everyone put all of their eggs into the MS Desktop OS basket only to find out that the basket was a frying pan. They literally control everything and don't think twice to flex their control. Well, they do now (to a certain extent), thanks to Governmental "interference."

Still, instead of legislation and regulation, they simply should have switched to open source. It would have been much more devastating to MS and may just have well accomplished the same thing (If you don't open up, we'll find someone who will).

* Dear Physorg: Thank you for making it so flood control doesn't erase your comment, but PLEASE fix the double-space edit bug as well. Thank you.

Jul 26, 2009
Active x controls only really work with internet explorer? You can download from other websites but it is far more dialed in to internet explorer than any other internet browser. No one can successfully compete at 5% of the majority.

Jul 27, 2009
Uhm. Refresh my memory. Didn't Microsoft already promise once a few years ago to unbundle IE in the EU??

Jul 27, 2009
How long before Microsoft produces a version of Internet Explorer for Linux and Mac OS? Give everybody choice, and let the competition really begin, (as it should have done years ago).

As for the 'bundled software' argument, (and answering docknowledge), it has taken several versions of the most popular operating system to separate, (unintegrate as opposed to unbundle), the consequently most popular web browser.

What browsers were the server management consoles compatible with? What multimedia widgets were the productivity software applications using?

It got to the stage that most of the user interface was using browser components.

On the other hand, does Google intend to separate the Chrome browser from their new OS? Why does the Chrome browser deliver the Google apps faster, (as they claim)?

Will the international governments be able to control Software As A Service as effectively as they have Software As A Product?

Perhaps the next G20 or G8 summit should start the formation of worldwide (global, standard) regulations over multinational, Internet-based datacentres - such as those currently in construction by Google and Microsoft, to name just two.

If Google makes its browser work better (than other browsers) with its Cloud, at what point do we say the it is integrated or bundled with Google Software (As A Service)?

Jul 27, 2009
"How long before Microsoft produces a version of Internet Explorer for Linux and Mac OS?"

Try... NEVER. Well, there was IE for Mac, but they have discontinued it. And linux? That would be conceding defeat in the desktop market and/or giving linux an even greater position to erode MS' position even more. Note however, you can get IE to work on linux already. But is it not and never will be native.

It is the most popular browser because it was bundled! That's the point! Netscape was the most popular browser until IE was forced down everyone's throat with Win 98.

The Google OS is intended to be a very simple platform for the browser to sit upon. Chrome, in essence, will be the "desktop." Web applications are faster in Chrome because of their ultra efficient Javascript engine which is intended to be the cornerstone of web applications.

I love standards, but as long as there are no laws forcing them upon corporations. They can control the standards and the SaaS by being selective in the marketplace. I guess there is a ceavet with SaaS in that the provider can turn your service off at any time with the flick of a switch. Considering Amazon deleting the books from Kindle recently. In addition, they have access to all of your information all the time. Downloaded copyrighted material to your webspace? They know and can regulate it! There definitely are issues at hand.

It's "integrated or bundled" with Google SaaS when you can't use the SaaS with any other browser - bullshit Microsoft would pull.

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