Europe to test Microsoft browser ballot system

The EC has said it is happy with concessions made by the software giant to provide a choice of browsers, while Microsoft will make technical docs available to developers
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The European Commission on Wednesday announced it will market test a browser ballot system put forward by Microsoft in answer to antitrust concerns.

Microsoft said in a statement that for the next five years in Europe, PC users who are running Internet Explorer as their default browser will receive a 'ballot screen' that will allow them to download and install other browsers.

The ballot will be made available through a software update, which will install on Windows 7, Vista and XP computers.

"We welcome today's announcement by the European Commission to move forward with formal market testing of Microsoft's proposal relating to web-browser choice in Europe," said Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith in a statement.

The software giant agreed to the measures following Commission concerns that Microsoft may have abused its dominant market position by bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. The Commission said in a statement on Wednesday that, from Friday, software companies, computer manufacturers and other interested parties will be able to test Microsoft's browser changes.

Competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a speech on Wednesday that the Commission was happy Microsoft had taken adequate measures to address potential browser antitrust issues.

"The Commission's preliminary view is that Microsoft's commitments would indeed address our competition concerns," said Kroes.

Microsoft has agreed that the ballot screen will be displayed automatically, allowing PC users to make any other browser the default if they prefer.

In addition, Microsoft has agreed to throw open to developers technical specification documentation for Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange and SharePoint, including the open-source community. This will allow developers to have access to documentation to assist them in building products that work with Microsoft products.

"We... welcome the opportunity to take the next step in the process regarding our proposal to promote interoperability with a broad range of our products," said Brad Smith.

The Commission handed down a record antitrust fine of €497m (£458m) to Microsoft in 2004 after it found the company had withheld information from its rivals on how to interoperate with its software. The Commission then fined Microsoft again in 2008 for failure to pay the 2004 fine.

The Commission raised concerns about Internet Explorer in January, which Microsoft attempted to allay in July when it proposed the browser ballot screen.

Interested parties will be able to test Microsoft's browser concessions from Friday, and comments will be open for a month.

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