EC declares it wants Microsoft to offer "choice" of browsers

EC statement says that unbundling IE from W7 may not be good enough

The European Commission is not satisfied with Microsoft's declaration that it will remove Internet Explorer from the editions of Windows 7 sold in Europe. In fact, the EC's statement, issued late Friday, sounds almost petulant. In the short, 688-word statement, the word "choice" or the phrase "choice of browsers" was used no less than nine times.

But we don't need to paraphrase. The EC is pretty clear that it thinks a better remedy is one in which somehow, the user chooses a browser as a function of the operating system and not installed as a separate retail item, or as an option installed by the computer dealer at the point of purchase.

"The European Commission notes with interest Microsoft's announcement of its plans for Windows 7, and in particular of the apparent separation of Internet Explorer (IE) from Windows in the EEA. The Commission will shortly decide in the pending browser tying antitrust case whether or not Microsoft’s conduct from 1996 to date has been abusive and, if so, what remedy would be necessary to create genuine consumer choice and address the anticompetitive effects of Microsoft’s long-standing conduct. In terms of potential remedies if the Commission were to find that Microsoft had committed an abuse, the Commission has suggested that consumers should be offered a choice of browser, not that Windows should be supplied without a browser at all."

Not much of a stretch to see that the EC is favoring the "ballet screen" in which lots of browsers are loaded into the operating system and the consumer selects which ones to load. Never mind the fact that a user that knows the difference between Internet Explorer and Firefox or others would certainly have the savvy to fire up whatever browser was on the machine and download.

Corporations who standardize, and only support, a particular browser (typically IE), may or may not be burdened by some kind of "choice of browser" option. Would the IT department be abe to enforce a standardized browser if browser selection were a function of the operating system? And if bundling IE with Windows 7 really was unfair, does it hold that Apple's choice to bundle Safari on its Mac is also not ok. Can Linux distros bundle Opera or Firefox?

In the meantime, a group of Microsoft users are fed up over the EC's apparent rejection of Microsoft's decision to unbundle IE and Windows 7. The JCXP group is calling for the boycott of Opera Software's products. Opera initiated the complaint in December, 2007. However, it wasn't until January 15, 2009, (long after Firefox began storming the European browser market), that the EC weighed in, agreeing with Opera's complaint and telling Microsoft it would demand some sort of remedy.

"According to the JCXP, the ballot screen option is a 'ridiculous idea' that would require Microsoft to promote competing products within Windows. 'That's like Pepsi putting a label on their drinks saying 'Have you tried Coke lately?' Taraso wrote."

Would it be harmful to the enterprise to have a "ballet screen" option in Windows 7?

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