Microsoft, EU reach accord on antitrust

EC believes it has a deal it can accept the latest offer on browser competition

Microsoft appears to have reached an agreement with the European Commission that concludes an antitrust battle that has lasted a decade, Europe's top competition regulator said Wednesday.

A proposal the company offered in July to address charges of monopoly abuse were dismissed as insufficient by the Commission as well as by rivals in the software industry. But the latest iteration appears to have mollified the EC's regulator.

"We believe this is an answer," said competition commissioner Neelie Kroes in a press conference.

"I think this is a trustful deal we are making. There can't be a misunderstanding because it is the final result of a long discussion between Steve Ballmer and me," she added.

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The new settlement offer addresses charges that Microsoft distorted competition in its favor in the market for web browsers, by giving its Internet Explorer (IE) browser an unfair advantage over rivals.

It also addresses accusations that Microsoft hides important interoperability information from rivals, preventing them from competing fairly against Microsoft Office, as well as other software products, the Commission said.

To address the browser case the software giant has offered to create a new ballot screen inside its Windows operating system that lists a maximum of 12 browsers and gives them all exactly the same visibility and ease of use as IE.

The earlier offer was criticized for still granting IE a slight advantage over other browsers on the ballot screen.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has made renewed assurances that it will provide rivals, including open source software vendors, ready access to the interoperability information they need in order to make products that work properly with Windows, the operating system running over 95 percent of the world's personal computers.

On Friday the Commission will distribute the new offer from Microsoft to interested third parties in the case, including rival software manufacturers and consumer groups. They will have one month to comment.

Kroes said she is sure some of Microsoft's rivals will not be satisfied by the new offer. "A number of people are never 100 percent satisfied," she said.

She said she would take serious criticism of the offer seriously but added that in her view Microsoft's offer would restore effective competition. "At the end of the day that's what we are looking for," she said.

Microsoft was holding a press conference Wednesday morning to offer its perspective on the deal.

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