microsoft-strikes-deal-with-e-u-on-browser-bundlingMicrosoft has sealed a deal to end nearly a decade of litigation with the European Union over charges that it unfairly used its dominant operating system, Windows, to promote its Web browser, Internet Explorer. The Redmond, Wash., computer giant agreed to give European users a choice of up to 12 Web browsers in future editions of the company's software package. Microsoft, which had tangled with the U.S. Department of Justice over antitrust issues more than a decade ago, has already been fined about $2.5 billion by E.U. authorities. %%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%%

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels Wednesday, E.U. Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes told reporters, "I hope that today's decision closes a long chapter in Microsoft's sometimes uneasy relationship with the commission."

"For the first time in over a decade, Internet users in Europe will have an effective and unbiased choice between Microsoft's Internet Explorer and competing Web browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari and Opera," said Kroes, whose five-year term as commissioner ends this month.

The settlement means that Microsoft won't be forced to pay further huge fines to the Europeans. It also means the company can turn its attention to competitive threats, most notably Mozilla's increasingly powerful Firefox offering. The free, open-source browser recently overtook Internet Explorer as the most popular browser in Germany, according to a study by Fittkau and Maass this month, cited by Bloomberg.

The agreement will last five years. Microsoft's Internet Explorer had 63.6% of the market in November, according to Net Applications data cited by Bloomberg, compared to 24.7% for Mozilla's Firefox, 4.4% for Apple's Safari and 3.9% for Google's Chrome.

The E.U.'s probe was a remnant of last's decade's browser wars, in which Microsoft was accused by multiple jurisdictions -- including the U.S. -- of abusing its market power by bundling its browser software together with its Windows operating system. Microsoft dominates the global operating system market. Its Windows operating systems run on over 90% of personal computers worldwide.

In a statement, Christine Varney, assistant attorney general of the U.S. Justice Department's Antitrust Division, praised the deal.

"The Department of Justice's Antitrust Division commends the efforts of the European Commission and Microsoft Corporation, which have announced that they have reached a comprehensive settlement resolving their disputes under European competition law," Varney said. "As we understand it, the settlement is based on measures to enhance competition and is designed to preserve industry participants' incentives and ability to compete going forward.

"A settlement that helps to clarify obligations under European law allows the industry to move forward. The Department is committed to continuing its strong and cooperative relationship with the European Commission to promote competition policy that protects consumer welfare."

Now, if only Microsoft could get Google off its back ...

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