Microsoft, EU agree on browser ballot, EU drops charges

Not all action by antitrust regulators ends badly for PC industry monopolies. Although Intel is now coming under fire from the FTC, Microsoft has kissed and made up with the European Commission over the latest browser bundling spat.

According to the Associated Press, Microsoft has agreed to present users with a ballot screen, allowing them to choose a web browser besides Internet Explorer when they first start up a new computer or Windows installation. Here's what Europeans can look forward to, specifically:

Microsoft said it will start sending updates in March to Windows computers in Europe so that when PC users log on, they will see a pop-up screen asking them to pick one or more of 12 Web browsers to download and install. People who buy new PCs will see the screen when they start up for the first time.

The top five browsers — Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Mozilla's Firefox, Google Inc.'s Chrome, Apple Inc.'s Safari and Opera, will be given more prominent placement on the screen. The selections will rotate from computer to computer, so none of those five browsers will always be first.

This mechanism will be used for five years in the 27-nation European Union plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Microsoft could be fined 10 percent of its annual revenue if it doesn't stick to its commitment.

The European Commission, meanwhile, has agreed to drop charges against the software maker. The AP says that marks the end of Brussels' ongoing antitrust battle with Microsoft—at least for now. An investigation about Microsoft's compliance with the Commission's 2004 decision, which required it to share interoperability data with competitors, is still ongoing.

Users in the U.S. won't get the browser ballot screen. Microsoft already got off the hook for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows in the States a few years back, so legally speaking, the company shouldn't have anything to worry about there.

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