Opera Software to Microsoft: Not so fast on that EU antitrust settlement.

Microsoft has been attempting a full-speed-ahead resolution of the two antitrust cases leveled against it by the European Union — one dealing with the ability of Microsoft Word and Excel to interact with other applications, the other with the installation of Internet Explorer in the upcoming Windows 7. Over the summer, Bloomberg reported that Redmond was in talks to wrap up both investigations by the time European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes stepped down from office at the end of 2009.

After months of back-and-forth with EU antitrust regulators over preinstalling IE 8 on Windows — which at one point saw Microsoft seemingly on the verge of releasing an IE 8-free “Windows 7 E” for the European market — Redmond announced back in August that Europe would receive the same version of Windows 7 as the rest of the world, only with a “ballot screen” that would let users choose either Internet Explorer or an alternate Web browser such as Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome.

By doing so, Microsoft gave every appearance of readying itself to play chicken with the European Competition Commission, which is still reviewing the case. “You want to irritate every OEM, partner and customer in our European ecosystem by forcing us to reintroduce Windows 7 E?” Microsoft seemed to be muttering as it revved its engine. “You want to block the full version of Windows 7 in Europe? C’mon, make our day.”

The EU commission, which has slapped Microsoft with around 1.6 million Euros’ worth of fines in the past, has still not announced a decision; but the maker of one of those alternative Web browsers, Opera, is making its opinions on the issue known.

“We are slightly concerned about perhaps a premature settlement in this case,” Hakon Wium Lie, Opera Software’s CTO, told Reuters in an interview published Sept. 28. “We are also eager to close the case but we want to make sure the settlement is effective. We think the current solution on the table will not be an effective settlement.”

I know someone who’s not getting a holiday card from Steve Ballmer this year.

Lie decided to rub in the salt a little deeper by calling out Microsoft’s proposed “ballot screen” solution:

“We think the ballot screen is a good starting point for discussion but the way they thought of implementing it, we think it is not an effective remedy,” Lie added in that interview. “What we would like is to have a native ballot screen which looks and feels like other Windows software updates and not running inside the browser.”

Attempting to appear as part of a broader coalition, Lie insisted that, “Google and Mozilla are in line with this. Other ECIS [European Committee for Interoperable Systems] members are also in line.” ECIS members include Nokia, Oracle and IBM.

Reuters claims that it obtained a confidential questionnaire being circulated by the commission, which asks respondents whether the proposed ballot screen is effective in its design and implementation. The survey was apparently due back to the commission in August.

To be fair, the sample ballot screen provided by Microsoft gives equal screen space to each of the browsers, along with helpful instructions and a “Tell Me More” button:

msft browser image.png

Although Lie suggested in the Reuters article that the ballot screen could be confused with spam, I personally have a hard time seeing that. But then, I also doubt that Opera will be able to influence the commission’s decision, one way or another.

What do you think?

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