Brussels, 16th December 2009
Antitrust: Commission accepts Microsoft commitments to give users browser choice
The European Commission has adopted a decision that renders legally binding commitments offered by Microsoft to boost competition on the web browser market. The commitments address Commission concerns that Microsoft may have tied its web browser Internet Explorer to the Windows PC operating system in breach of EU rules on abuse of a dominant market position (Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union -TFEU). Microsoft commits to offer European users of Windows choice among different web browsers and to allow computer manufacturers and users the possibility to turn Internet Explorer off. Microsoft is also publishing today an undertaking whereby it commits to make far-reaching interoperability disclosures.
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: "Millions of European consumers will benefit from this decision by having a free choice about which web browser they use. Such choice will not only serve to improve people's experience of the internet now but also act as an incentive for web browser companies to innovate and offer people better browsers in the future."
Under the commitments approved by the Commission, Microsoft will make available for five years in the European Economic Area (through the Windows Update mechanism) a "Choice Screen" enabling users of Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 to choose which web browser(s) they want to install in addition to, or instead of, Microsoft's browser Internet Explorer.
The commitments also provide that computer manufacturers will be able to install competing web browsers, set those as default and turn Internet Explorer off.
Today's decision follows a Statement of Objections sent to Microsoft by the Commission on 15 January 2009 (see ). The Statement of Objections outlined the Commission’s preliminary view that Microsoft may have infringed Article 82 of the EC Treaty (now Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) by abusing its dominant position in the market for client PC operating systems through the tying of Internet Explorer to Windows.
The Commission’s preliminary view was that competition was distorted by Microsoft tying Internet Explorer to Windows. This was because it offered Microsoft an artificial distribution advantage not related to the merits of its product on more than 90 per cent of personal computers. Furthermore, the Commission's preliminary view was that this tying hindered innovation in the market and created artificial incentives for software developers and content providers to design their products or web sites primarily for Internet Explorer.
The approved commitments address these concerns. PC users, by means of the Choice Screen, will have an effective and unbiased choice between Internet Explorer and competing web browsers. This should ensure competition on the merits and allow consumers to benefit from technical developments and innovation both on the web browser market and on related markets, such as web-based applications.
The Commission's decision is based on Article 9 of Regulation 1/2003 on the implementation of EU antitrust rules. It takes into account the results of the market test launched in October 2009 (see ). This decision, which does not conclude whether there is an infringement, legally binds Microsoft to the commitments it has offered and ends the Commission's investigation. If Microsoft were to break its commitments, the Commission could impose a fine of up to 10% of Microsoft's total annual turnover without having to prove any violation of EU antitrust rules.
A clause in the commitments allows the Commission to review the commitments in two years. Microsoft will report regularly to the Commission, starting in six months' time, on the implementation of the commitments and under certain conditions make adjustments to the Choice Screen upon the Commission's request.
In July 2009, Microsoft also made proposals in relation to disclosures of interoperability information that would improve interoperability between third party products and several Microsoft products, including Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange, and SharePoint (see ). After intensive discussions with the Commission, Microsoft is today publishing an improved version of the undertaking and related documents (for example a warranty agreement and a patent licence agreement) on its website. The Commission welcomes this initiative to improve interoperability. Even though it remains informal vis-à-vis the Commission, Microsoft’s public undertaking offers assurances to third parties that can be privately enforced. The Commission will carefully monitor the impact of this undertaking on the market and take its findings into account in the pending antitrust investigation regarding interoperability (see ).