EC to pursue antitrust case despite Microsoft's IE decision

Antitrust remedies still needed because stripping out IE from the OS doesn't give consumers a choice of browser, EC says

The European Commission will proceed with its antitrust case against Microsoft regardless of the announcement late Thursday that the software giant is stripping its browser, Internet Explorer (IE), from the next incarnation of its operating system, Windows 7, in Europe.

The Commission has accused Microsoft of stealing an unfair advantage for IE by tying, or bundling it in with Windows since 1996.

Europe's top antitrust regulator said in a statement released overnight that it "notes with interest" Microsoft's statement, which was made in a blog post late Thursday in the U.S. But the EC said it would proceed with the case, and would draw up a remedy that allows computer users "genuine consumer choice".

"At the level of both computer manufacturers and retail sales, the Commission's statement of objections (SO) suggested that consumers should be provided with a genuine choice of browsers. Given that over 95 percent of consumers acquire Windows pre-installed on a PC, it is particularly important to ensure consumer choice through the computer manufacturer channel," the statement said.

Stripping out IE from Windows "may potentially be positive," the statement said, as this would allow original equipment manufacturers to offer their customers PCs with a browser of their choice, whether it be IE or a rival browser such as Opera, Mozilla's Firefox, Google's Chrome or Apple's Safari.

However, the statement was less positive about the effect on direct sales of Windows to consumers. "Rather than more choice, Microsoft seems to have chosen to provide less," it said.

Opera, a Norwegian browser whose complaint to the European Commission at the end of 2007 sparked the antitrust investigation in the first place, welcomed Microsoft's move but said it was just a step in the right direction.

Its lawyer, Thomas Vinje, who also represents a trade group called ECIS which speaks for software giants IBM, Oracle and many other Microsoft rivals, said in an email that Microsoft's action "is an acknowledgement of the validity of the Commission's case against it."

Vinje added that stripping out IE from Windows does not go far enough.

"Microsoft must now give users real choice, and not only buyers of new computers, but also existing users. Microsoft should provide a ballot screen through which both existing users and buyers of new PCs can easily select and get a browser of their choice," he said.

He also pointed out that Microsoft must be punished for tying IE into Windows for over a decade.

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