Microsofts stated intention to release versions of Windows 7 without an embedded Internet Explorer 8 has not impressed the European Commission (EC), which is still investigating whether Microsofts previous bundling of Internet Explorer (IE) with its operating system could be regarded as an abuse of its dominant market position. However, in choosing to continue to fight with Microsoft the EC may not be doing what is best for the citizens/users of the community and it may even harm rival vendors in the long term.
Microsoft is playing its hand early
As the company knows, with the decoupling of Windows 7 and IE it is actually adding a barrier to the adoption of Firefox, Safari or even Opera, because all are currently downloaded through an existing browser (normally IE) and none of those has major OEM agreements or the ability to distribute via physical media on masse to customers.
Windows 7 is expected to be available in October 2009 in six versions for different market segments. Expecting that the EC would rule against it, as in the previous case of the bundling of Windows Media Player (WMP), Microsoft has pre-empted the judgement by stating that it will release a further six versions for the EU market without Internet Explorer 8 an option already labelled by some as Windows 7 E.
The ECs response is that it does not believe that Windows should be supplied without a browser, rather that there should be a ballot screen where the user selects, on installation, which browser they wish to use the ECs argument being that in its dominant position Microsoft has a duty to give the customer/citizen the choice of rival browsers such as Firefox, Chrome or Opera.
Microsoft was fined a total of 1,396 million by the EC for the offences of first bundling WMP in XP and then not complying with a judgement from the EC to remove it. Eventually Microsoft released Windows XP N without WMP, but its adoption by OEMs was minuscule. An irony for the current debate is that the ballot screen option was offered by Microsoft to resolve the dispute, but was rejected by the EC.
Its all about the advertising
Obviously Microsoft wants people to continue to default to IE, and by extension to Bing, just as Google wants Safari, Firefox and Chrome users to default to Google.com. It is all about increasing advertising revenues on those search engines.
A ballot screen is potentially a nice compromise, but it may raise even more questions:
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