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Euros Go To The (Browser) Polls March 1

Microsoft set to introduce "ballot screen" that gives Windows users a choice between Explorer or rival Internet software.
Europe has a long history of democracy, and citizens of the Continent will get to exercise their right to vote once again on March 1.

But this time they won't be selecting a president, prime minister, or other government official. Rather, they'll be voting on a default Web browser for their Windows PCs.

Microsoft said Friday that it plans to update Windows 7, XP, and Vista systems with a so-called "ballot screen" next month that lets users more easily select, if they choose, a browser other than Internet Explorer as the default on Windows-based systems.

The move is a result of an agreement Microsoft hashed out late last year with European antitrust regulators who claimed Explorer's prominent place on the Windows desktop gives Microsoft an unfair advantage in the browser market.

To remedy the situation, Microsoft agreed to add the ballot screen.

"This browser choice screen will present a list of browsers, with links to learn more about them and install them," said Microsoft deputy general counsel Dave Heiner, in a post on the company's Web site.

"The design and operation of this choice screen was worked out in the course of extensive discussions with the [European] Commission and is reflected in the commitment Microsoft made," said Heiner.

Microsoft is bound by the agreement's terms for five years.

The accord was meant to settle claims by European authorities that Microsoft's bundling of Explorer with Windows stifles competition and creates an unfair playing field for rivals like Google, with its Chrome browser, and Mozilla's Firefox.

The ballot screen will come pre-installed on new Windows 7 computers and pushed to older systems, including those running Vista or Windows XP, through Microsoft's Windows Update server.

Microsoft and European trustbusters have butted heads numerous times previously. In 2008, the EC hit the company with a record $1.35 billion antitrust fine, claiming Microsoft failed to make available to rivals documentation needed to create products interoperable with Windows.

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