It’s not yet clear whether talks between Microsoft and the European Commission (EC) are getting closer to a resolution, but the software giant has quietly revealed that it will not ship a browserless release of Windows 7 in the European Union (EU) after all.
Dave Heiner, Microsoft deputy general counsel, revealed the switch in a posting on the company’s On the Issues blog late Friday afternoon.
In mid-June, Microsoft announced plans to not include Internet Explorer (IE) with copies of Windows 7 sold within the EU, designated “Windows 7 E”. The company said it was the only way it could see at the time to comply with the EC’s “statement of objections” regarding its default bundling of IE with Windows.
That plan began to shift two weeks ago, however, when Microsoft said it had agreed with EC regulators to provide a “ballot screen” on initial startup that would let each user choose among a variety of browsers as to which would be the default for their Windows 7 installation.
Microsoft also said it would include the same ballot screen on copies of Windows Vista and XP that continue to be sold in the EU.
“If the Commission accepts our recent proposal, we would then fully implement all of its terms,” Heiner’s post said. “As proposed, we would use the Internet to deliver a ballot screen update to customers who purchase Windows 7 in the European Economic Area, either as part of a PC or as a retail upgrade product.”
Microsoft for years has been under constant attack for what the EC views as anticompetitive behaviors in bundling products like Windows Media Player as well as IE with Windows. In January, the EC notified Microsoft that it viewed the company’s bundling of IE with Windows going back to 1996 as a violation of EU antitrust laws.
When Microsoft agreed to the ballot screen initiative two weeks ago, the EC’s competition directorate responded positively to what some analysts characterized as Microsoft’s knuckling under to its demands to provide more choice for EU users.
“In the wake of last week’s developments, as well as continuing feedback on Windows 7 E that we have received from computer manufacturers and other business partners, I’m pleased to report that we will ship the same version of Windows 7 in Europe in October that we will ship in the rest of the world,” Heiner said in Friday’s post.
“One reason we decided not to ship Windows 7 E is concerns raised by computer manufacturers and partners,” Heiner continued. “Several worried about the complexity of changing the version of Windows that we ship in Europe if our ballot screen proposal is ultimately accepted by the Commission and we stop selling Windows 7 E.”
It may be that the move is one that Microsoft had to take to ship a compliant version of Windows 7 in the EU at the same time it ships the system everywhere else in the world on Oct. 22.
At this late stage — Windows 7 hit its “Release to Manufacturing” milesone on July 22 — Microsoft has little leeway in terms of meeting the worldwide launch schedule, Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told InternetNews.com.
“Microsoft has been trying to work out a compromise that they and the EC can both live with,” King said.
A spokesperson for the EC, which is the executive branch of the EU, was not available for comment because the EC has shut down for its annual August holiday.
Additionally, Microsoft spokespeople did not return requests for comment as to whether the EC has approved of its plans to ship Windows 7 with IE and a ballot screen.
However, Heiner voiced optimism regarding Microsoft’s latest proposal.
“We’re now confident that shipping Windows 7 with IE in Europe — as we will in the rest of the world — is the right thing to do for our partners and for our customers.