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SPEECH/09/582

Neelie Kroes

European Commissioner for Competition Policy

Your Internet, Your Choice: Microsoft web browsers decision

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED


Opening remarks at press conference

Brussels, 16 th December 2009

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today is an important day for internet users in Europe. Today, the Commission has resolved a serious competition concern in a key market for the development of the internet, namely the market for web browsers. Now - 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.

More than 100 million European computer users stand to benefit from the Commission's decision today. An even higher number will benefit over the five year lifetime of the commitments made binding on Microsoft with today's decision.

Microsoft has until now tied its web browser Internet Explorer to the Windows PC operating system. This meant that neither computer manufacturers nor users could disable Microsoft's web browser and replace it with another browser of their choice.

As a consequence Microsoft's own web browser was present on virtually every PC in Europe and a lot of internet content was specifically adapted to this browser irrespective of its technical merits.

Or by way of analogy:

It is as if you went to the supermarket and they only offered you one brand of shampoo on the shelf, and all the other choices are hidden out the back, and not everyone knows about them. What we are saying today is that all the brands should be on the shelf.

That is why computer manufacturers and PC users should have the freedom to choose between Microsoft's web browser and competing web browsers. That is what fair competition is about. Fair competition also acts as an incentive for new technical developments. Today's decision will encourage innovation - both on the web browser market and on related markets such as web-based applications. And where innovation thrives, so do consumers.

Web browsers have gained strategic importance as they have become the gateway to an enormous range of on-line services both for businesses and consumers. Today's decision therefore has the potential to foster the development of platforms for applications which will rival existing ones and therefore offer consumers choice and variety.

Today's decision delivers choice for consumers and addresses the competition concerns the Commission outlined in the Statement of Objections we sent Microsoft in January of this year.

Microsoft’s commitments are made legally-binding by today’s decision, which closes the Commission’s antitrust investigation into the tying of Internet Explorer to the Windows PC operating system. I hope that today’s decision closes a long chapter in Microsoft's sometimes uneasy relationship with the Commission, and opens a new, more positive one.

Today's decision

As a result of the Commission's decision, computer users with the Microsoft Windows PC operating system will be shown a Choice Screen which will give them a choice between the 12 most widely-used web browsers that run on Windows. Membership of this list will be determined by usage share in the European Economic Area. Users will be able to choose to download as many of the browsers as they like. Or they can stick with Microsoft's web browser.

In addition, computer manufacturers and users will be able to turn Microsoft's web browser off, and set other browsers as the default browser. In other words – whichever way you look at it, Microsoft will have to earn clients for its web browser.

Microsoft is also prohibited from circumventing free and effective browser choice by any contractual, technical or other means.

Choice screen improvements since October

So what changed since our market test of the Choice Screen was announced? In the light of feedback we received, Microsoft has significantly improved its commitments. These improvements concern the design of the Choice Screen and the Commission's review powers in particular:

The new design minimises any risk of bias in favour of Microsoft's web browser. First, it will be presented in a neutralised window (not a full Internet Explorer window). Secondly, the browsers will be presented in random order.

The Choice Screen now looks cleaner and less cluttered to make sure consumers can focus on the browser choice and have easy access to all the information they may consider relevant to their decision.

Finally – and this is very important – Microsoft will within six months, and then annually, report to the Commission on its implementation of the commitments. Subject to certain conditions, Microsoft is obliged to make adjustments to the implementation of the choice screen upon the Commission's request.

This is important because we are dealing with complex markets here. The Commission needs a mechanism that will allow it to fix any unexpected problems that may arise in implementing the decision.

When will computer users get their choice?

On timing – the commitments are binding as from today. However, Microsoft will need some time to implement the Choice Screen. It will therefore be available from mid-March 2010.

Interoperability

Before we proceed to questions, let me also say a few words on Microsoft’s important undertaking on interoperability information.

Microsoft has committed to allow interoperability between third party products and several important Microsoft products. These products include Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange, and SharePoint. This initiative is very welcome, as interoperability is crucial for competition in the software industry. In the Commission’s experience, interoperability can be best ensured through the availability of open specifications that can be implemented by every interested party regardless of the business model it follows. Microsoft commits to publish such specifications.

W hile these arrangements remain informal vis-à-vis the Commission, the package includes warranties that Microsoft will offer to third parties and these can, in turn, be privately enforced. The package also provides for an effective fast-track dispute resolution mechanism that sets the right incentives for Microsoft to comply with its pledges.

You will be able to see the whole interoperability package on Microsoft's website today.

The Commission will carefully monitor the impact of Microsoft’s proposals on the market and take its findings into account in its assessment of the pending antitrust investigation regarding interoperability.

I look forward to taking your questions.


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