Microsoft's antitrust settlement offer to the European Commission needs minor, often cosmetic changes in order to restore fair competition to the market for Internet browsers, said some of the software giant's main rivals Thursday.
Their concerns about the settlement are echoed by ECIS, a trade group representing Oracle, IBM, Red Hat, and others, as well as by consumer organizations following the Microsoft antitrust case.
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Microsoft has proposed that Windows operating systems should show users a ballot screen inviting them to choose a Web browser from among the most popular ones when they first attempt to access the Internet.
Consumer organizations and the company's rivals generally approve of the idea, but believe the way Microsoft's ballot screen is designed is biased and will deter people from replacing Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser with another.
They also argue that a review period two years after the settlement would come into force is too long to wait, and they call for regular monitoring of the ballot screen every six months, to make sure it is having the desired effect of encouraging consumers to exercise their free choice.
At the beginning of this year the European Commission issued a statement of objections to Microsoft, accusing the company of abusing the dominance of Windows to skew competition in its favor in the Web browser market.
The accusations came five years after the Commission found Microsoft guilty of monopoly abuse in the markets for media players and workgroup server software, for which the company has been fined over 1 billion euros to date.
Faced with another costly and humiliating antitrust ruling against it in Europe, Microsoft last month offered to settle the browser case.
Competition commissioner Neelie Kroes welcomed the offer, which was an improvement on an earlier offer submitted in July, saying she was broadly happy with the latest undertakings.
But under E.U. antitrust rules, the settlement offer must be shown to interested third parties, including rivals and consumer groups.
Opera, a Norwegian browser maker, Google with its Chrome browser, and Mozilla, maker of Firefox, the closest competitor to Microsoft's Internet Explorer, are all on the point of submitting their formal response to the settlement offer, and all three agree on some small but crucial problems with the Microsoft offer.
Kroes said she expects some objections to the latest Microsoft offer from some rivals. "A number of people are never 100 percent satisfied," she told journalists last month. But for her the offer is enough.
Fearful of appearing troublesome and never satisfied, the companies most affected by the proposed settlement are treading very carefully in their submissions to Kroes and her team of antitrust officials.
"The ballot screen is a good solution and we support it, but there are some warts -- things that can easily be fixed," said Håkon Wium Lie, the chief technology officer of Opera, the company that sparked the antitrust case two years ago by complaining to the E.U. Regulator.
The ballot screen as devised by Microsoft warns users more than once of the risks they are taking by attempting to open a non-Microsoft software product. Opera wants the warnings scrapped, allowing for a one-click route to replacing Internet Explorer.
It also objects to the design of the ballot screen, with its Internet Explorer branding in the crucial top left corner of the screen.