The European Commission on Thursday responded with a mixed assessment of Microsoft's move to strip Internet Explorer out of European versions of Windows 7.
As first reported by CNET News, Microsoft has been telling PC makers of its plan to offer Windows 7 in Europe with the browser removed. PC makers and consumers would have to add in a browser. That would be simple--and potentially profitable-- for PC makers, but could prove quite a hassle for those trying to upgrade an existing PC to Windows 7.
In a statement, regulators said that the move seems a step backward in the retail software arena, but said it could be more positive in the new PC market, which is how 95 percent of consumers get a new version of Windows.
"As for retail sales, which amount to less than 5 percent of total sales, the Commission had suggested to Microsoft that consumers be provided with a choice of Web browsers," the Commission said. "Instead Microsoft has apparently decided to supply retail consumers with a version of Windows without a Web browser at all. Rather than more choice, Microsoft seems to have chosen to provide less."
But, as for the new computer market, stripping out the browser might be a good thing, the Commission says.
"As for sales to computer manufacturers, Microsoft's proposal may potentially be more positive," the commission said. "It is noted that computer manufacturers would appear to be able to choose to install Internet Explorer--which Microsoft will supply free of charge--another browser or multiple browsers."
Opera, the Norwegian browser maker that pushed the EU to open its case, said that it is wholly dissatisfied with Microsoft's action.
"They are under pressure to do something and they come up with this thing, which is quite obviously not going to work," Opera CTO Hakon Wium Lie said in an interview "This is very similar to what the remedy was in the Media Player case. It was widely recognized that that was an insufficient remedy. It was too little too late."
Lie said Opera favors an option that the EU has been considering in which consumers would be offered a choice of browsers when they buy a new PC.
The Commission said it expects to act soon in its own case against Microsoft, and suggests Microsoft's action wasn't among those it was considering. The commission issued a preliminary finding in January that the inclusion of a browser in Windows violated European antitrust law. Microsoft has objected to that finding.
"The Commission will shortly decide in the pending browser-tying antitrust case whether or not Microsoft's conduct from 1996 to date has been abusive and, if so, what remedy would be necessary to create genuine consumer choice and address the anticompetitive effects of Microsoft's long-standing conduct," the Commission said. "In terms of potential remedies if the Commission were to find that Microsoft had committed an abuse, the Commission has suggested that consumers should be offered a choice of browser not that Windows should be supplied without a browser at all."