Microsoft today declined to comment when asked whether it believed it's required to offer a ballot screen in Windows 8 to European users for selecting rival browsers in the new operating system's desktop mode. Yet the settlement specifically called out future editions of Windows.
In late 2009, Microsoft struck a deal with European Union antitrust regulators that required the company to display a screen in Windows providing download links to other browsers, including Mozilla's Firefox, Google's Chrome, and Opera Software's Opera. "For Windows client PC operating systems after Windows 7, the Choice Screen [the ballot screen] update will first be made available at the general commercial release date of such an operating system and remain in place for distribution ... for the entire duration of these commitments," the document states.
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According to the final agreement ( download PDF), the deal has a five-year life span -- meaning it will expire in late 2014 -- and broadly defined "Windows" and "Internet Explorer" to include "successors" of the then-current Windows 7 and IE8.
Microsoft and E.U. regulators came to agreement on browser choice after a two-year investigation by the latter, who filed a formal "statement of objections" to Microsoft's practice of bundling Internet Explorer (IE) in January 2009. The E.U. inquiry was prompted by a 2007 complaint submitted by Norwegian browser maker Opera Software.
Microsoft agreed to provide a way to disable IE and to show a ballot screen to users who had not changed the default browser.
Windows has always shipped with IE as the default browser, a practice Microsoft continued with Windows 8 Consumer Preview, the early build it released in February.
Although Windows 8 features the new Metro mode for smaller-scale, touch-based apps, it also boasts a traditional "desktop" environment where existing x86/x64 applications -- those that now run in Windows 7, for example -- operate. Current browsers, such as Firefox, Chrome, and Opera will be able to run in the desktop mode, even if they're not recast to include a Metro front end.
If implemented in Windows 8's desktop, the ballot screen would presumably feature the same set of rival browsers as is now offered to Windows 7 customers in the European Union and several other countries.
Microsoft declined to comment on its interpretation of the ballot screen requirement regarding Windows 8 and its desktop. The E.U.'s Competition Commission -- the body's antitrust agency -- was not available for comment today. Browser rival Opera also declined to comment; Google and Mozilla did not immediately reply to requests for their stance on the ballot screen in Windows 8.