EU Warms to Microsoft's Latest Offer on Browsers

The European Commission plans to seek feedback from the software industry and consumers on a new offer from Microsoft to address charges that it is competing unfairly in the market for web browsers, the regulator said Wednesday.

European competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said Microsoft's latest settlement offer in its long-running antitrust case in Europe "is an answer" to the charges it faces.

The move is a sign of detente in Microsoft's antitrust battle with Europe's top regulator.

"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," its top counsel in the affair, Brad Smith, said in a written 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."

In July, Microsoft offered to provide a choice of Web browsers with its upcoming Windows 7 operating system. The proposal included a "ballot screen" on which Windows 7 users could select a competing Web browser as their default choice and disable Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

According to Smith's statement, Microsoft has been 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 May 2004 the EU fined the company €497 million ($794 million) and ordered it to sell a version of Windows in Europe that did not include Microsoft's Windows Media Player software, to restore competition in that market.

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