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Antitrust: Commission accepts Microsoft commitments to give users browser choice – frequently asked questions

Commission Européenne - MEMO/09/558   16/12/2009

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MEMO/09/558

Brussels, 16th December 2009

Antitrust: Commission accepts Microsoft commitments to give users browser choice – frequently asked questions

How will computer manufacturers benefit from Microsoft's commitments?

Computer manufacturers and consumers will now have the possibility to uninstall (“disable”) Internet Explorer so that another web browser can be installed to be the default and only web browser. This had not been possible in previous versions of Windows for over a decade. Microsoft also commits not to retaliate against computer manufacturers which install competing web browsers. Computer manufacturers therefore have a choice of which web browser they want to offer to their customers.

What is the Choice Screen, who will receive it and when?

In order to address the Commission's competition concerns with regard to the tying of Microsoft's web browser Internet Explorer to its Windows PC operating system, Microsoft commits to offer Windows users a choice amongst various web browsers via a Choice Screen. The Choice Screen will be made available through an update to the Windows operating system. All users of Windows XP, Vista and 7 in the European Economic Area on whose PCs Microsoft's web browser is set as the default browser will be offered this update. Users who have enabled automatic updates will receive the Choice Screen automatically. Other users will be asked to confirm if they want this update to be applied to their PCs.

The Choice Screen will contain information on the 12 most widely-used web browsers that run on Windows. It will allow users to easily download and install one or more of these web browsers. The list of browsers included on the Choice Screen will be updated every six months on the basis of several independent sources of market share information.

Currently, the following web browsers qualify for inclusion on the Choice Screen:

Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, AOL, Maxthon, K-Meleon, Flock, Avant Browser, Sleipnir and Slim Browser. The five most widely used browsers will be prominently displayed and the other seven browsers will be shown when the user scrolls sideways.

Microsoft has until mid-March 2010 to make the Choice Screen update available to users, at which point it will be directly available to Windows 7 users. The roll-out to all users of Windows XP and Vista will be completed within five months from today. The update will remain available for five years.

The Choice Screen update will be displayed on over 100 million PCs in Europe when it is launched in mid-March 2010 and to around 30 million new PC users per year over its five year term. In addition, from mid-March 2010 onwards, anyone can view and use the Choice Screen at www.browserchoice.eu.

Why does the Commission take the view that the commitments address its competition concerns?

Today's decision follows a Statement of Objections sent to Microsoft on 15 January 2009 (see MEMO/09/15) in which the Commission expressed its preliminary view 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 PCs. Further, 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 Microsoft's web browser.

The commitments approved by today's decision address these concerns.

Computer manufacturers and consumers will now have the possibility to uninstall (“disable”) Microsoft's web browser and to choose the web browser that best serves their needs.

PC users, by means of the Choice Screen, will have an effective and unbiased choice between Microsoft's web browser 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.

What has changed in Microsoft's commitments since October 2009?

Microsoft has in particular made the following improvements to the Choice Screen:

  • The browsers presented by the Choice Screen will be displayed in random order to avoid any risk of positional bias;

  • the Choice Screen will be displayed in a dedicated window without any unnecessary distractions instead of in a tab with a full Internet Explorer interface;

  • the design of the Choice Screen has been improved to avoid clutter and unnecessary difficulties for users;

  • the implementation of the Choice Screen will be subject to a reporting and review mechanism.

How will the implementation of the commitments be monitored and enforced?

The Commission will have the possibility to request a review of the commitments after two years (or later) under certain conditions.

In addition to this review clause, Microsoft has committed to provide regular reports, the first in six months time, on the implementation of the Commitments, including quantitative usage statistics. It has also agreed to modify the Choice Screen at the Commission's request where this is necessary and proportionate in view of the results of the reporting.

Finally, under Article 9(2) of Regulation No. 1/2003, the Commission has the right to reopen the proceedings against Microsoft in case there is a material change in the underlying facts of the Commission's assessment in the commitment decision or if Microsoft breaches its commitments. Under Regulation No. 1/2003, the Commission also has the power to impose penalty payments on an undertaking if it does not comply with a commitments decision.

Why is Microsoft's public undertaking on interoperability information not part of the commitment decision?

In July 2009, Microsoft had made proposals in relation to far-reaching 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 MEMO/09/352). Microsoft is today publishing an improved version of this undertaking and related documents such as a warranty agreement and a patent licence agreement on its website.

The Commission welcomes this initiative to enhance interoperability. Although the undertaking remains informal vis-à-vis the Commission, it allows for private enforcement.

The Commission will carefully monitor the impact of the undertaking on the market and take its findings into account in its pending antitrust investigation regarding interoperability (see MEMO/08/19).

See also IP/09/1941 and MEMO/09/559.

For further information, please go to:

http://ec.europa.eu/competition/consumers/web_browsers_choice_en.html


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