Microsoft and the European Commission may be close to a deal on packaging Internet Explorer 8 with Windows 7, with Redmond agreeing to offer users an automatic "ballot screen" from which they can choose a rival browser. Such an agreement would alleviate the Commission's antitrust concerns, but Google, Opera and Mozilla plan on asking the regulatory body for as-yet-unannounced changes to the agreement.
may not quite be out of the woods yet with regard to its antitrust dealings
with the European Commission, the regulatory body that investigates possible
violations of European Union antitrust rules. Although Redmond and the
regulatory body seem close to a deal over the integration of Internet Explorer
8 into Windows 7, some of Microsoft's chief rivals will apparently ask the commission
to change some details of the settlement.
Mozilla, Opera and Google all plan on asking the Commission for last-minute
changes, according to a report published in The
New York Times
. The newspaper quoted Hakon Wium Lie, Opera's chief
technology officer, as saying: "We hope the commission is open to fixing
the remedy. ... I don't think we are going to get another chance."
After months of suggesting that Windows 7 would ship in Europe without
Internet Explorer, in response to antitrust concerns from the commission, Microsoft
reversed course in August and proposed an automatic "ballot screen" that would
allow users to select between IE 8 and a competing Web browser
unilateral move was undertaken despite an inherent risk of rejection by the commission.
It remains to be seen what sort of changes Mozilla, Opera and Google will
suggest to the commission about the ballot screen. In subtext, the three
companies seem to want to prevent Microsoft from making an unimpeded deal that
could somehow disadvantage them later on.
Microsoft's months of negotiations with the European Commission over
incorporating Internet Explorer 8 into Windows 7 seemed to come to a head on
Oct. 7, when both Redmond and the European Commission issued statements
suggesting that all relevant issues could be settled by the end of 2009.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal at the time, Competition
Commissioner Neelie Kroes said she was "very hopeful" about a
resolution during a press conference in Brussels, and that she had spoken with
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
"The Commission's concern has been that PC users should have an
effective and unbiased choice between Internet Explorer and competing Web
browsers," the commission wrote in an Oct. 7 statement. "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."
In Microsoft's sample mockup of the ballot screen, those rival browsers were
given an equal amount of on-screen space alongside IE 8. Microsoft also
suggested that it would give equivalent placement on Windows 7's taskbar for
Internet Explorer and other browser icons.
"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," Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, wrote
in an Oct. 7 statement. "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."
The commission had wanted other IT firms to have access to technical
specifications that would allow them to build products that worked well with
Microsoft products, and to have that access offered at royalty rates
"based on the inherent value of the technology disclosed." Microsoft
has claimed that it will implement this in full.
In an interview later in October, Opera's CEO
suggested that the ballot screen was a step in the right direction.
"It's good for consumers if there's a choice of browsers and they will
look at the ballot screen solution," Jon
Tetzschner, CEO of Opera, told eWEEK
. "And if users are provided with
a choice of ballots, I think that's very good. That's what we had hoped for.
There are elements in this that we think could have been done better, but we'll
communicate that to the commission instead."
During that interview, Tetzschner expressed reservations about placing the
browser options in alphabetical order on the ballot screen, and gave some hints
about what the organization might suggest to the commission next week.
"Our thinking is that it would be best to have a random solution, that
basically when it comes down to the different browsers that are shown in the
screen that no particular order will be followed," Tetzschner said.
"I think that's the fairest solution but, again, we'll leave it to the
commission to come up with a good solution."