Europe's competition watchdog has accepted a Microsoft plan to offer a choice of internet browsers, ending a decade-long dispute over the software giant's dominant market position.
By March, all European users of the Windows operating system will be see a pop-up ‘choice screen’ allowing them to select one of 12 major browser programmes including Firefox, Opera and Safari, as well as Microsoft's own Internet Explorer product. Computer manufacturers will also be able to choose to sell PCs without the Microsoft browser.
Neelie Kroes, the EU Competition Commissioner, said the plan is good for both consumers and the software industry. “Millions of European consumers will benefit from this decision by having a free choice about which web browser they use,” she said. “Such choice will not only improve people's experience of the internet now but also act as an incentive for web browser companies to innovate and offer people better browsers in the future.”
The scheme represents a major strategic shift for Microsoft, which has significant operations in the Republic.
Brad Smith, the company's General Counsel, said: “We are embarking on a path that will require significant change. Nevertheless, we believe that these are important steps that resolve these competition law concerns.”
Internet Explorer is by far the most dominant browser, accounting for more than half of all internet traffic compared with less than a third for Firefox, its nearest rival. In January, Brussels ruled that Microsoft was gaining an ‘artificial distribution’ by bundling its browser in with the ubiquitous Windows operating system. The ‘choice screen’ solution has been under discussion for more than six months, after the Commission realised that the initial Microsoft threat to pull Internet Explorer altogether would leave Europe's Windows users with no way to get onto the web to download an alternative.
The row over browsers is just one of a series of disputes that have cost Microsoft €1.6bn (£1.4bn) in fines since 2004. Commission inquiries have included compatibility issues affecting both Microsoft's servers and its Office software, and the bundling of its Real Player media system.
The Redmond-based company yesterday also agreed to provide developers with more interface information about a range of products including Windows Server and Office.
Meanwhile, microchip giant Intel has been sued by US competition authority the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It accuses Intel of using its dominance in the market to prevent innovation and limit competition from smaller firms. Intel said the FTC’s case was misguided.