The European Commission will on 9 October 2009 formally invite comments from consumers, software companies, computer manufacturers and other interested parties on an improved proposal by Microsoft to give present and future users of the Windows PC operating system a greater choice of web browsers.
The commitments have been offered by Microsoft after the Commission expressed specific concerns that Microsoft may have infringed EC Treaty rules on abuse of a dominant position by tying its web browser (Internet Explorer) to its client PC operating system Windows, and are an improved version of the proposals made by Microsoft in July 2009.
The improvements concern greater information to consumers about web browsers, the features of each browser, an improved user experience as well as a review by the Commission to ensure the proposals genuinely work to benefit consumers.
The European Comission invites interested parties to submit comments within one month.
"The Commission welcomes Microsoft's proposal as it has the potential to give European consumers real choice over how they access and use the internet," the Comission said.
Following the market test, the Commission could decide to adopt a decision under Article 9 of Regulation 1/2003, which would make the commitments legally binding on Microsoft.
Brad Smith, Brad Smith, General Counsel, Microsoft Corporation, in regard to the European Commission's announcement:
"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. We also welcome the opportunity to take the next step in the process regarding our proposal to promote interoperability with a broad range of our products.
"Today's announcement follows our publication of earlier drafts of these two proposals in July and broad feedback from across our industry to the Commission in August. Microsoft then engaged in extensive discussions with the Commission over the last month, during which we agreed to make numerous changes to improve these proposals. For Microsoft, today?s decision is a significant step toward closing a decade-long chapter of competition law concerns in Europe."
In July 2009, Microsoft made a proposal to address the Commission's competition concerns. Microsoft has now improved its proposal, in particular as regards its practical effectiveness in terms of ensuring genuine consumer choice. These improvements followed discussions with the Commission, which received a number of comments on the Microsoft proposal.
The improvements that Microsoft has made to its proposal since July would ensure that consumers could make a free and fully informed choice of web browser. Microsoft has in particular agreed to present users with a first screen explaining what web browsers are. "Tell me more" buttons for each browser would also enable users to learn more about the web browser they may wish to install. The user experience would be better and the choice screen would better represent competing browser vendors. Finally, the proposed commitment would now be subject to a clause allowing the Commission to review it in the future to ensure that consumers would continue to have a genuine choice among browsers.
Under its revised proposal, Microsoft would make available for five years in the European Economic Area (through the Windows Update mechanism) a choice screen enabling users of Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 (Microsoft's next version of its PC operating system) to choose which web browser(s) they want to install in addition to, or instead of Internet Explorer. Likewise, in future versions of Windows, including Windows 7, PC manufacturers would be able to install competing web browsers, set those as default and disable Internet Explorer.
The Commission's concern has been that PC users should have an effective and unbiased choice between Internet Explorer and competing web browsers to ensure competition on the merits and to allow consumers to benefit from technical development and innovation both on the web browser market and on related markets, such as web-based applications. The Commission's preliminary view is that Microsoft's commitments would address these competition concerns and is market testing Microsoft's proposal in light of these requirements.