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Microsoft ditches plans for Windows 7 E editions

Software giant pins hopes on EC verdict

Betting that European antitrust regulators will okay its proposal for a 'ballot screen' and facing opposition from computer makers and corporate customers, Microsoft late Friday abandoned plans to ship Windows 7 without Internet Explorer (IE).

At the same time, a company executive said Microsoft wasn't happy with having to give equal time to rival browsers. "As you might imagine, it was not easy for Microsoft to accept the idea that we would essentially promote directly competing software from within our flagship product, Windows," said Dave Heiner, Microsoft's deputy general counsel and a company vice president.

Even though officials from the European Commission haven't signed off on Microsoft's proposal to offer customers a choice of rival browsers when they first run Windows 7, the company said it is dropping the special edition once destined for Europe, dubbed Windows 7E.

Microsoft first proposed the Europe-only versions nearly two months ago, one of several major concessions it's made this year to Brussels-based regulators.

"In the wake of last week's developments, as well as continuing feedback on Windows 7 E that we have received from computer manufacturers and other business partners, I'm pleased to report that we will ship the same version of Windows 7 in Europe in October that we will ship in the rest of the world," Heiner said on a company blog.

Heiner's reference to last week was to Microsoft's proposal, announced July 24, that it would provide a ballot screen in Windows 7, and later on Windows XP and Vista, when Internet Explorer (IE) is set as the default browser. EU antitrust officials had been pushing for such a screen - which will provide download and informational links to rivals such as Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome and others - since it filed charges against Microsoft in January. Until last week, Microsoft had resisted adding a ballot to Windows.

"The Commission welcomes this proposal, and will now investigate its practical effectiveness in terms of ensuring genuine consumer choice," said the EU's antitrust agency in a statement July 24.

Microsoft's obviously taken the "welcomes this proposal" to heart, or it knows more than it's telling about progress with the commission toward a final deal. Heiner hinted at the former. "We ... feel encouraged in making this decision by the positive reaction from so many quarters to our ballot screen proposal last week," he said.

Opera Software, the Norwegian browser maker whose December 2007 complaint to the commission sparked the latter's charges that Microsoft was violating the law by bundling IE with Windows, had responded favourably to the ballot screen idea. Even so, the company had expressed concerns, as well as the long-shot hope that Microsoft would expand the ballot concept worldwide.

Heiner also admitted that computers makers were unhappy with Windows 7E.

"One reason we decided not to ship Windows 7 E is concerns raised by computer manufacturers and partners," he said. "Several worried about the complexity of changing the version of Windows that we ship in Europe if our ballot screen proposal is ultimately accepted by the Commission and we stop selling Windows 7 E." OEMs were also worried that if Windows 7E was eventually dropped, customers would be confused when IE suddenly reappeared in the OS.


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