Last January, the EC
reiterated its “preliminary view
that Microsoft’s tying of its web browser Internet Explorer to its dominant
client PC operating system Windows infringes the EC Treaty rules on abuse of a
dominant position (Article 82).”
Microsoft responded by suggesting that it could ship Windows 7 with no browser at all, a move which produced another frown from the EC in June: “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.”
Since it is a foregone conclusion that “an abuse” will be found, the import of this response was that Microsoft’s proposal was not acceptable. Now, the EC has announced that it has received additional proposals from Microsoft along lines suggested by the EC – that Windows 7 purchasers get a menu of browser options, not a blank screen. “This followed extensive discussions with the Commission which centred on a remedy outlined in the January 2009 Statement of Objections (see MEMO/09/15) whereby consumers would be shown a "ballot screen" from which they could – if they wished - easily install competing web browsers, set one of those browsers as a default, and disable Internet Explorer.”
The Commission gave no indication whether the new proposals will be greeted with favor. The clear implication is that Microsoft is giving the Commission what it asks for, but who knows what gods or devils are in the details.
The proposal documents themselves are
available via Microsoft, which said:
Like the Internet Explorer proposal, the interoperability measures we are offering involve significant change by Microsoft. They build on the Interoperability Principles announced by Microsoft in February 2008, which were also based on extensive discussions with the Commission, and they include new steps including enforceable warranty commitments.
We believe that if ultimately accepted, this proposal will fully address the European competition law issues relating to the inclusion of Internet Explorer in Windows and interoperability with our high-volume products. This would mark a big step forward in addressing a decade of legal issues and would be good news for European consumers and our partners in the industry.
Microsoft’s reference to its 2008 Interoperability Principles is a good sign. Both these and its 2006 Windows Principles represent important approaches to resolving the issues of coopetition that characterize the tech world.