Microsoft: Peace With European Commission Is At Hand

In a statement issued Wednesday, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith welcomed the commission's decision earlier this week to seek public comment on Microsoft's proposal to offer European consumers a ballot page from which they can choose a Web browser. The commission is also seeking comment -- what it calls "market testing" -- about Microsoft's plans to promote interoperability between its software and third-party products.

"We welcome today's announcement by the European Commission to move forward with formal market testing of Microsoft's proposal relating to Web browser choice in Europe," Smith said in the statement. "We also welcome the opportunity to take the next step in the process regarding our proposal to promote interoperability with a broad range of our products."

The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union countries, has long argued that Microsoft's practice of bundling its Internet Explorer browser with the Windows operating system could violate European antitrust laws.

After initially proposing to ship Windows in Europe with IE removed, Microsoft in July came up with the ballot screen idea that would let users choose from a selection of Web browsers. It has since refined the proposal and earlier this week the European Commission indicated that it favored the idea and was issuing a formal "market test notice" seeking comment on the proposal.

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The European Commission also appeared to approve of Microsoft's proposals to improve the ways it discloses information to allow interoperability between Microsoft software, including Windows, Exchange, Office and SharePoint, and products developed by other companies, including competitors.

In a press conference in Brussels Wednesday, competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said she believes the European Commission and Microsoft are close to resolving the dispute, according to a story in The New York Times.

The European Commission will seek comment on the Microsoft plan for one month. After that the commission will work with Microsoft to put the proposal into a five-year, legally binding agreement that could result in fines if Microsoft failed to comply.

In his statement, Smith said the proposed remedies to the European Commission's concerns "will require significant change within Microsoft."