Yesterday Microsoft announced that in Europe it would not be shipping Internet Explorer 8, its market-leading browser offering, with Windows 7, its new operating system which launches October 22. Despite the fact that its primary competitor, Apple's OS X Snow Leopard will ship with a proprietary browser (Safari), Microsoft felt it necessary to unbundle the browser in hopes of avoiding another costly antitrust bout with the European Union.
Unfortunately, for Microsoft its best was not good enough. The European Commission announced late Thursday that it would still be pursuing charges against Microsoft. The EC sticks with its previous assertion that by tying Internet Explorer to Windows, since 1996, Microsoft is "stealing" a unique and unfair advantage.
The EC says it took note of Microsoft decision to not bundle IE 8 with Windows 7, but it felt that the decision did not give users enough "genuine consumer choice". States an EC release, "At the level of both computer manufacturers and retail sales, the Commission's statement of objections (SO) suggested that consumers should be provided with a genuine choice of browsers. Given that over 95 percent of consumers acquire Windows pre-installed on a PC, it is particularly important to ensure consumer choice through the computer manufacturer channel."
The statement summarizes, "Rather than more choice, Microsoft seems to have chosen to provide less."
The EC wants to force Microsoft to bundle rival browsers -- Opera, Mozilla's Firefox, Google's Chrome or Apple's Safari -- with Windows as install options. Microsoft has been unwilling to do this. Its main OS competitor, Apple does not bundle competitive browser offerings.
Opera's lawyer, Thomas Vinje, cheered the decision, stating, "Microsoft must now give users real choice, and not only buyers of new computers, but also existing users. Microsoft should provide a ballot screen through which both existing users and buyers of new PCs can easily select and get a browser of their choice."
Opera Chief Technology Officer Håkon Wium Lie added in a statement, "We note with intereste that Microsoft now seems capable of separating IE from Windows. However, we do not believe that Microsoft’s move will restore competition for desktop browsers. Most users get their operating systems from the OEM channel and Microsoft will recommend that OEMs pre-install IE8. As such, users are unlikely to be given a genuine choice of browsers."
He continues, "We believe that the idea of a ‘ballot screen’ is better: when going online, users will be asked which browser(s) they prefer to use. The browser(s) of choice will the painlessly be installed and ready for use."