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12 June 2009, 11:04

EU vs. Microsoft: Windows 7 to be released without a web browser in Europe

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Microsoft is backing down in the antitrust dispute with the European Commission about bundling Windows with the Internet Explorer web browser. Deputy General Counsel Dave Heiner says in Microsoft's legal and policy blog that, in Europe, Internet Explorer will not be an integral part of Windows 7. He said this is to ensure a smooth launch of Windows 7 in October. Computer manufacturers will be able to add any browser they want to their Windows 7 machines.

The worldwide launch of Windows 7 is fast approaching, but as Heiner explained, a pending legal case raises concerns about the sufficiency of competition among the web browsers that are available to European Windows users. He said that, while Microsoft wants to make Windows 7 available in Europe at the same time that it launches in the rest of the World, his corporation also needs to comply with European competition laws.

The executive said that instead of including Internet Explorer in the operating system, the browser will be offered as a separate, easy-to-install package to both computer manufacturers and users. Heiner emphasised this means that computer manufacturers and users will be free to install either Internet Explorer or any other web browser of their choice on Windows 7 systems. According to his blog entry, the European version of Windows 7 will include all the features and functionality offered to Windows 7 users in the rest of the world – except browsing with Internet Explorer.

According to the dpa press agency, the EU antitrust watchdogs responded sceptically to the announcement. The agency said that in the pending antitrust case, the European Commission wants to ensure that there will be more, not fewer, browser choices in Windows. The Commission also said that it plans to reach a decision in the pending case, shortly.

Opera's CTO, Wium Lie told Reuters that he did not think Microsoft's move would be enough to restore competition saying "I don't think it will get them off the hook" and adding that Opera preferred the option of Microsoft selling Windows 7 with a choice of browsers, rather than none at all.

Following a complaint by Microsoft competitor Opera, the EU antitrust watchdogs investigated whether the US software giant's bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows would hinder competition. Opera's complaint also gained the support of the Mozilla Foundation, Google and the Free Software Foundation Europe, as well as that of the non-profit association European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS). Once again, Microsoft faces high fines and other sanctions. The European Commission recently asked PC manufacturers whether Microsoft had pressured them to raise objections to the European Commission's plans of enforcing that Microsoft offer PC users a choice of alternative browsers.

In February last year, the Brussels antitrust watchdogs had imposed a record fine of 899 million euros on Microsoft for hindering competition. The corporation had charged excessive licence fees for technical information for years. Microsoft's overall EU fines to date amount to almost 1.677 billion euros. The vendor paid its first penalty of almost 500 million euros in 2004. In addition, Microsoft had to disclose technical details to other software vendors, so they could make their products comply with Microsoft's Windows operating system. According to the Commission, Microsoft did not meet this obligation until October 2007.

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