Microsoft is willing to give Windows 7 users in Europe a choice of browsers, rather than simply no browser.
The European Commission (EC)announced on its Web site on July 24 that Microsoft has now proposed as part of settlement talks to allow a "ballot screen" to be included in Windows 7. Microsoft initially was dead-set against allowing the inclusion of a ballot screen which would prompt users at set-up to select among a number of different browsers, including Internet Explorer (IE) 8, as its legal representatives made clear earlier this year.
The ballot screen was one of the ideas the EC regulators were floating as a possible remedy in the Microsoft vs. Opera antitrust case that Opera lodged in late 2007. The case involves whether Microsoft has harmed consumers and competitors by bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. Microsoft and the EC have been in settlement talks for the past month or so.
More from the European Commission Web site:
"Under the proposal, Windows 7 would include Internet Explorer, but the proposal recognises the principle that consumers should be given a free and effective choice of web browser, and sets out a means – the ballot screen - by which Microsoft believes that can be achieved. In addition OEMs would be able to install competing web browsers, set those as default and disable Internet Explorer should they so wish. The Commission welcomes this proposal, and will now investigate its practical effectiveness in terms of ensuring genuine consumer choice."
It sounds like Windows 7 E is off the table. Windows 7 E is still seemingly on the table -- at least until the EC accepts Microsoft's new ballot-screen proposal. (See the end of this post for more details.)
Windows 7 E is a version of Windows 7 Microsoft is building that will not include any browser. Microsoft said earlier this year that Windows 7 E would be the one and only version of Windows 7 it planned to field in Europe.
In today's statement, the European antitrust regulators made their distaste for Windows 7 E clear, but indicated they might go for a combination of Windows 7E plus the ballot screen:
"As the Commission indicated in June (see MEMO/09/272 ), the Commission was concerned that, should Microsoft's conduct prove to have been abusive, Microsoft's intention to separate Internet Explorer from Windows, without measures such as a ballot screen, would not necessarily have achieved greater consumer choice in practice and would not have been an effective remedy."
Microsoft is preparing an official statement, officials said. Once that's out, I will update this post.
Update: Yes, Windows 7 E is still on the table, but only up until the time the EC accepts Microsoft's just-released ballot-screen proposal. If and when regulators agree to that, Microsoft will no longer offer Windows 7 E in Europe. Here's the explanation from Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith:
"If this proposal is ultimately accepted, Microsoft will ship Windows in Europe with the full functionality available in the rest of the world. "
If regulators accept Microsoft's ballot-screen proposal, Smith said, Microsoft will begin working with OEMs at that time to get the ballot screen incorporated onto new Windows 7 PCs. Windows 7 machines -- at least so far -- are still slated to go on sale in Europe and the rest of the world starting October 22.
Microsoft will publish, as requested by EC regulators, Microsoft's new settlement proposal on the company's Web site.
Smith also said today that it has agreed as part of the settlement terms with the EC to "promote interoperability between third party products and a number of Microsoft products, including Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange, and SharePoint."