July 28 2009 – The software giant has been accused of using its dominance to unfairly push its own browser, Internet Explorer, on consumers by tying it to Windows. The European Commission opened an investigation in January, after Swedish browser rival Opera filed a complaint in 2007.
The concession was something that U.S. Department of Justice lawyers as well as lawyers for Silicon Valley’s Netscape had sought from Microsoft in the government’s historic antitrust case against the company. The U.S. lawyers failed in their mission when an appeals court found in 2001 that Web browsers didn’t constitute a market, overturning a ruling by Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Andrew Chin, an associate professor at University of North Carolina School of Law who worked for Jackson on the case, said he feels vindicated by the turn of events in the EU case.
“I think, on its face, it’s very positive,” Chin said. “It was in principle what I had hoped would be the outcome of the U.S. prosecution of Microsoft.”
Under Microsoft’s proposal, European consumers will now get to pick from a ballot of browsers, including Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome. Microsoft also promised not to take punitive actions against companies such as personal computer makers that install rival Web browsers.
The European Commission, which investigates antitrust claims for the EU, was pleased with the proposal, saying, “The Commission welcomes this proposal, and will now investigate its practical effectiveness in terms of ensuring genuine consumer choice.”
Previously, the commission had rejected a proposal by Microsoft to offer a version of Windows without any Web browser. In 2008, Microsoft was fined $1.3 billion for failing to comply with a 2004 antitrust decision by the commission.
In a prepared statement, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said the proposal would “fully address” all of the EU’s concerns.
“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,” Smith added.