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Microsoft rivals advise EC on an antitrust remedy

Microsoft rivals advise EC on an antitrust remedy

A few pre-loaded browsers or quick links to all browsers are two possibilities under consideration

"If the remedy the Commission chooses results in the real estate on the PC for one or other browser being for sale, then there's a problem for everyone apart from the highest bidder," said Thomas Vinje, a lawyer representing Opera, the Norwegian browser company that sparked the Commission's antitrust case with a complaint to the regulator in December 2007.

However, Google insists it isn't interested in buying market share for Chrome, which remains the smallest and youngest of the big five browsers.

People familiar with Google's thinking say the company is more concerned about speed of access to the Internet. They point out that all the main rivals to IE are faster than Microsoft's browser, so any alternative to IE would be acceptable.

A faster browser would allow more searches within a given period of time, which would mean more advertising revenue for Google's search engine.

"For Google, the browser is simply a delivery mechanism," said one person close to the company who asked not to be named. "It doesn't like having to rely on its arch rival Microsoft's IE browser in order to distribute its search and other internet services," he added.

In its response to the Commission's questionnaire about the shape of the remedy, Google is understood to favor the preloaded option, involving a short list of the most popular browsers being preinstalled and flagged on the ballot screen.

Google is understood to have even proposed that Chrome be excluded from the ballot screen list to make way for the fastest growing browser at any given time. Google declined to comment.

Microsoft did not receive the questionnaire about antitrust remedies, for obvious reasons. However, it has said in the past that it bitterly opposes the ballot screen remedy, which amounts to a "must carry" order forcing it to install rival browsers with Windows.

CompTIA, a trade group ally of Microsoft's that represents many small European PC manufacturers and assemblers did receive the questionnaire. In its reply to the Commission, the group said that a must-carry remedy imposes financial, technical and administrative burdens on its members, forcing them to alter their business models, which are built around a fully equipped Windows OS with built-in IE.

It also argues that consumers don't want the must-carry remedy either. "We believe that many consumers will not like the multiple browser feature that is under consideration -- they will find it confusing, unnecessary and complicated," CompTIA said in a recent statement.

The statement was issued on behalf of 90 small PC manufacturers, including bluechip Computer of Germany, PC Peripherals of Ireland and Bionic Electronics HT of Cyprus. None of the commonly known original equipment manufacturers were included.

Microsoft declined to comment on a possible antitrust remedy against it. However, it has urged PC manufacturers, including CompTIA's members, to share their concerns with the Commission about the must-carry idea and the notion of a ballot screen featuring a choice of browsers.

The Commission also refused to comment. But one person close to the antitrust team handling the case said the questionnaire feedback will play an important role in helping shape the final remedy, assuming they do push ahead with a negative ruling as expected in the fall.

Vinje said the efficacy of any remedy will be determined by how it is designed.

He added that one of the most crucial questions is when, during the process of connecting a new PC to the Internet, the consumer is prompted to select a browser. The sooner the ballot screen appears the better, he said.


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