Commission Consults On Improved Microsoft Browser Ballot

The European Commission has opened a public consultation on whether Microsoft's proposed 'ballot screen' is enough of a concession to keep the Commission from taking action against it for abuse of a dominant market position.

The Commission has expressed concern over the degree to which Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser is tied to its almost-universally used Windows computer operating system.

The Commission said in January of this year that it believed that the automatic inclusion of Explorer in Windows was in breach of the EC Treaty, the legal basis of the European Union. It said the part breached was of Article 82, which deals with abuse of a dominant market position.

Microsoft offered in July to give buyers of Windows systems a choice of web browsers via a ballot. The Commission said that Microsoft has since improved its offer and that it is this proposal that will form the basis of its consultation.

"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," said a Commission statement.

"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," it said.

The Commission has invited responses from industry and the public on Microsoft's plans and has said that its public consultation will inform its decision. If it accepts the proposal then Microsoft's commitments will become legally binding, it said.

Microsoft has also offered to publish more information on its technology's interoperability with other systems, the Commission said. Interoperability has been another competition law issue addressed by the Commission because by reducing a system's interoperability with other systems, companies with market dominance can reduce users' choices relating to which system to use.

"The Commission also welcomes further improvements in the field of interoperability information which Microsoft will publish on its website via a public undertaking," the Commission said.

"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," said the Commission. "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," it said. "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."