The European Competition Commission announced today that have reached tentative agreement with Microsoft over their concerns about Web browsers and provision of interoperability information for Microsoft server software. Microsoft’s General Counsel Brad Smith explains it more succinctly:
Today’s announcement addresses two sets of measures. The first covers the inclusion of Internet Explorer in Windows and the way this will work in the future in Europe. This proposed measure ensures that PC manufacturers will continue to be able to install any browser on top of Windows and make any browser the default. It also ensures that PC manufacturers and users will be able to turn Internet Explorer on and off. And it ensures, that for the next five years in Europe, PC users who are running Internet Explorer as their default browser will receive a ballot screen that will enable them to easily download and install another browser if they would like. This ballot screen will be displayed automatically. PC users can make any other browser the default if they prefer. They can even turn Internet Explorer off, although there’s no need to turn off Internet Explorer in order to use a different browser or make another browser the default.
The Commission stated today in its formal notice that, subject to market testing, it intends to adopt a decision that makes the understanding described above legally binding on Microsoft in Europe for the next five years.
The second measure is a “public undertaking” that covers interoperability with Microsoft’s products—the way our high share products work with products from our competitors. This applies to an important set of Microsoft’s products—our Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange and SharePoint products—and represents the single biggest legal commitment in the history of the software industry to promote interoperability. Microsoft’s proposed undertaking will ensure that developers throughout the industry, including in the open source community, will have access to technical documentation to assist them in building products that work well with Microsoft products. Microsoft will also be required to support certain industry standards in its products and to fully document how these standards are supported. Microsoft’s proposed undertaking will make available legally-binding warranties that would be offered to third parties.
The Commission stated in its announcement today that it welcomes the company’s interoperability initiative. For reasons relating to European legal procedure, this interoperability undertaking follows a different procedural path from the web browser proposal. However, Microsoft will adopt the proposed undertaking in final form upon the Commission’s final adoption of the Internet Explorer commitments.
Public comment is invited and I can see possibilities for the settlement to still go awry before the EU Competition Commission makes its final decision, but it is clearly a step in the right direction for Microsoft who has gained nothing from the pitched battle they have fought in Europe.