Microsoft and the European Union have announced an agreement to conduct a trial program, under which European Windows customers will be presented with a “browser ballot” enabling them to choose a default Web browser for their PC, rather than being forced to use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer by default. The agreement is meant to settle antitrust claims against Microsoft by European regulators, who claim Microsoft has abused its dominant position in the operating system market to control the browser market as well. Microsoft has maintained that it makes no sense to distinguish between operating systems and browsers in today’s Internet-centric computing environment.
If the pilot program works out, Microsoft may be bound to the “browser ballot” agreement for five years.
“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,” said Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith, in a 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.”
Under the agreement, PC manufacturers will be able to set up any browser they like as the default Web browser under Windows, and will be able to enable or disable IE as they see fit. Windows users who have Internet Explorer set up as their default browser will see a “ballot screen” that will enable them to download and install other browsers, if they so choose. Users will also be able to turn Internet Explorer off altogether, regardless of whether they’ve set up another browser as their default. The ballot screen will be shipped as part of Windows 7, and will be pushed to existing Windows XP and Vista users via Windows Update.
“The Commissions’ 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 developments and innovation both on the Web browser market an on related markets, such a Web-based applications,” EU officials said in a statement.