Last Thursday Microsoft announced that the next version of the Windows operating system, Windows 7, will ship in Europe without the Internet Explorer 8 browser installed. This new version of the operating system will, like the XP and Vista versions sold without the Windows Media Player, will only be available in the European Union. What prompted this decision? Well, it seems that Opera Software ASA filed a complaint with the European Commission claiming that Internet Explorer was monopolistic and did not give users a choice in which browser they wanted. Microsoft has been down this road before with the lawsuit over the Windows Media Player that is normally bundled with Windows and rather than deal with a protracted legal fight they decided to simply ship a version of Windows 7 that will not include IE8 (or any other version of IE) in it.

This will give the end user a true choice as to which browser they wish to install — IE8, Mozilla’s Firefox, Opera, Google’s Chrome, or Apple’s Safari. So how is the EC responding to this move by Microsoft? You would think that they would hail it as a victory, right? Actually…no. The EC moved quickly to criticize Microsoft’s decision

In a statement issued late Thursday night in Brussels, the EU regulator said it “notes with interest” Microsoft’s announcement and would “shortly decide” the outcome of its own case. But it didn’t seem confident that offering the operating system without Internet Explorer was the complete answer to its concerns that computer users lack “genuine” choice in browsers.

“Rather than more choice, Microsoft seems to have chosen to provide less,” the EU said in its statement.

(Hodgsen, Jessica and Charles Forelle, “Windows is to Drop Browser in Europe,” Wall Street Journal Online, June 12, 2009)

What I can’t understand is how the EC can claim that Microsoft’s move provides less choice. Users in Europe will be able to buy Windows without any pre-installed browser and be able to install whatever browser that they want. Another scenario is where the system vendors — HP, Dell, Acer, etc — will pre-install the browsers for the end user based on the choice they make when they buy the system or sell systems with multiple browsers installed. Any way you slice it Microsoft’s move allows for more consumer choice. But apparently that’s not good enough for the EC.

Perhaps what they want is for Microsoft to install competitor’s products into the Windows operating system and then sell it for them? That seems to be the case since the EC indicated that it would rather see Microsoft offer consumers a choice of browser rather than remove IE8 from the operating system (“E.U. Criticizes Microsoft Plan to Remove Browser“, The New York Times, June 12, 2009). It’s hard to tell what would satisfy the European Commission. What I don’t see is the EC going after Apple for bundling the Safari browser in MacOS X? Or bundling iTunes into MacOS X and leveraging that in iPod sales. Or the EC going after Google as being monopolistic in Internet search. The move last Thursday by Microsoft may not even eliminate the possibility that the EC will levy a fine against the company as the “investigation dates to 1996 — which means it [the EC] still could levy substantial fines for the 13 years during which the browser was integrated, even if it finds that the separation allays its concerns going forward” (Hodgsen, Jessica and Charles Forelle, “Windows is to Drop Browser in Europe,” Wall Street Journal Online, June 12, 2009).

Microsoft is doing the right thing in the EU market in order to meet the EC’s concerns. It would be nice if the EC would acknowledge that and move forward.

(a small caveat here: this is solely my personal opinion and does NOT, in any way, reflect the opinion of my employer)

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