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EU regulators say Microsoft's new Windows software offers less choice

EUROPEAN Union regulators said yesterday that Microsoft Corp was offering less choice, not more, by vowing to sell the next version of Windows without any Web browsers at all.

Microsoft said on Thursday that it would remove its Internet Explorer browser - and not include any alternatives - in the Windows 7 software it will sell from October 22 in Europe to soothe EU antitrust concerns.

The company is trying to avoid new EU fines on top of a previous 1.7 billion euros (US$2.4 billion) after being earlier charged with unfairly using its operating system monopoly to squeeze into other software markets.

But the European Commission said it preferred to see consumers offered a choice of browser "not that Windows would be supplied without a browser at all."

"Rather than more choice, Microsoft seems to have chosen to provide less," it said.

It will soon decide whether Microsoft had violated EU antitrust law since 1996 by tying the browser to its ubiquitous Windows operating system which is installed on most of the world's desktop computers.

A "must carry" option that would offer several browsers was a better option, they suggested, because "consumers should be provided with a genuine choice of browsers" on the software that manufacturers install on computers.

It said Microsoft's solution would give no choice to the 5 percent of consumers who buy Windows software in a standalone pack, as opposed to pre-installed on a computer. Microsoft said it will give computer users who want the browser a way to obtain it.

But regulators were more positive about the larger market - which sells software to computer manufacturers - saying Microsoft's decision meant they could choose to install Internet Explorer or one or more other browsers.

The European Commission said it would have to weigh up whether this would actually create genuine consumer choice.

It warned that it would still have to look at "the long standing nature of Microsoft's conduct" and whether the removal of Internet Explorer "could be negated by other actions by Microsoft."

The EU charged Microsoft with monopoly abuse in January, following a complaint from tiny rival Norway's Opera Software ASA, which said Microsoft was unfairly using its power as the dominant supplier of operating system software to squeeze out browser competitors.

Mozilla Corp, which makes the Firefox browser, and Google Inc have signed on as third parties against Microsoft in the case.

Microsoft's browser is the most widely used, but Firefox is gaining in popularity and Google has released its own Web browser, Chrome.



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