Microsoft bids to pre-empt EU browser action

The fight between Microsoft and the European Union over how to bring greater competition to the internet browser market erupted afresh late on Thursday as the software company sought to pre-empt stringent anti-trust action being planned by Brussels.

Microsoft issued a unilateral statement saying that its Windows 7 operating system, due to be launched in October, would be made available in Europe without the Internet Explorer browser included. The move was designed to reduce the legal uncertainties around the launch of Windows 7 in Europe and “the risk of large fines”, Microsoft said.

The move drew a cool response from the European Commission, which has been preparing more stringent action against the software company to bring greater competition to the browser market. While the commission said it noted Microsoft’s move “with interest”, one official said that for consumers, “rather than more choice, Microsoft seems to have chosen to provide less”.

Thomas Vinje, a lawyer representing ECIS, a grouping of technology companies opposed to Microsoft, said: “This is a step in the right direction, but it is far from enough.”

Microsoft’s move comes as the European regulators have been preparing action against Microsoft that would include a requirement for it to give personal computer users a choice of which browser they use on their PCs. The unusual remedy would mark the most direct intervention yet by European regulators to promote consumer choice in technology markets.

The EU has been expected to push ahead with its action later this summer, along with a penalty that some legal observers say could approach the record €1.06bn ($1.49bn) fine recently levied on Intel.

Rather than wait for the expected sanctions, however, Microsoft said on Thursday that Windows 7 would be released in Europe without a browser, and that PC makers and consumers would be free to install one themselves.

The move echoes an earlier European action against Microsoft, when regulators forced the company to sell a version of Windows without a media player “bundled” into the software.

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