In a U-turn on Friday, Microsoft said it is now open to giving users in Europe a selection of browsers in Windows 7, making it easy for them to install a rival to Internet Explorer.
PC makers could still choose to install a rival browser -- as they can today -- and also choose to disable IE.
"Under our new proposal, among other things, European consumers who buy a new Windows PC with Internet Explorer set as their default browser would be shown a 'ballot screen' from which they could, if they wished, easily install competing browsers from the Web," Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said in a statement.
In January, the European Commission told Microsoft that it believed the bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows contravened European Union antitrust laws. Microsoft had hoped to comply with the Commission's objections by removing the browser entirely from its upcoming Windows 7. The Commission, however, indicated that such a move might not satisfy its concerns. On Friday, Commission regulators gave a more positive reaction to Microsoft's proposed ballot-screen remedy.
"Under the proposal, Windows 7 would include Internet Explorer, but the proposal recognises the principle that consumers should be given a free and effective choice of Web browser, and sets out a means -- the ballot screen -- by which Microsoft believes that can be achieved," the Commission said in a statement. "In addition, [computer makers] would be able to install competing Web browsers, set those as default and disable IE should they so wish. The Commission welcomes this proposal, and will now investigate its practical effectiveness in terms of ensuring genuine consumer choice."
For now -- and until the Commission accepts Microsoft's proposal -- the software maker said it will continue to ship only the browserless Windows 7 E version in Europe.
The planned browserless version could create a number of headaches for users. For example, it forces users to try to download a competing browser without having Internet Explorer to do so, and makes it more difficult to upgrade to Windows 7 than it would otherwise be. In addition, moving from Vista to Windows 7 E would require a new installation of the operating system for European users of the E version, while Windows users elsewhere could just upgrade their existing Windows installation.
"While the Commission solicits public comment and considers this proposal, we are committed to ensuring that we are in full compliance with European law and our obligations under the 2007 Court of First Instance ruling," Smith said. "PCs manufacturers building machines for the European market will continue to be required to ship E versions of Windows 7 until such time that the Commission fully reviews our proposals and determines whether they satisfy our obligations under European law."
Also on Friday, Microsoft said it has committed to "a public undertaking designed to promote interoperability between third-party products and a number of Microsoft products, including Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange and SharePoint". The software maker still faces a separate European Commission complaint over Office.
"Like the Internet Explorer proposal, the interoperability measures we are offering involve significant change by Microsoft," Smith said. "They build on the interoperability principles announced by Microsoft in February 2008, which were also based on extensive discussions with the Commission, and they include new steps, including enforceable warranty commitments."