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Browser Pledge Ends EU-Microsoft Antitrust Fight

IE, the EU and Microsoft
BRUSSELS -- European Union (EU) regulators accepted Microsoft's pledge to give European consumers better access to rival Internet browser in Windows, ending a long antitrust dispute with the U.S. software maker.

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said millions of European consumers would benefit from being able to choose their browser and the decision would encourage web companies to innovate.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) will allow users to select from among 12 browsers including its own Internet Explorer, Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome on more than 100 million old and new PCs from mid-March.

Browser maker Opera, who filed the original case, and Google welcomed the decision.

"We think this is an important victory for the Web," Opera CTO Hakon Wium Lie told Reuters.

"This means Internet users in Europe will have a genuine choice. It feels good. It's been two years of hard work for us."

The decision averted another penalty for Microsoft which has been fined 1.68 billion euros ($2.44 billion) by the European Commission for previous infringements of anti-competition rules.

Microsoft said it was pleased with the result of the case.

The EU executive said Microsoft's legally binding pledge addressed its concerns that the company may have breached EU antitrust rules by bundling its Internet Explorer web browser with its dominant Windows operating system.

Microsoft will also give computer makers the option to turn off Internet Explorer or install a rival browser, the Commission said.

Microsoft's commitments will be valid in the European Economic Area for five years, the Commission said, ending its antitrust investigation.

The European Union executive in January accused Microsoft of seeking to thwart rivals by bundling the company's browser with its Windows PC operating system, thereby harming innovation and reducing consumer choice.

Internet Explorer is used for about 56 percent of global Internet traffic, Mozilla's Firefox about 32 percent and Opera 2 percent, just following Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) Safari, according to Web analytics firm StatCounter.

Shares in Opera jumped on the news and were 3.5 percent higher at 17.60 euros.

Third-party products

On Wednesday the Commission also welcomed Microsoft's pledge to improve interoperability between third party products and several Microsoft products, including Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange, and SharePoint.

The Commission said it would monitor the impact of this undertaking on the market and take its findings into account in the pending antitrust investigation regarding interoperability.

Kroes said she was "very optimistic" Microsoft's undertaking could resolve her concerns, and she could close the case.

"As we've said before, we are embarking on a path that will require significant change within Microsoft," Brad Smith, Microsoft's General Counsel said in a statement. "Nevertheless, we believe that these are important steps that resolve these competition law concerns."

In 2008 the Commission launched the probe into the interoperability issue on a complaint by industry body European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), alleging that Microsoft had refused to disclose information that would allow third parties to design programs compatible with its products.

ECIS members include IBM, Nokia, Oracle and Sun Microsystems.