European Union regulators said Wednesday they were preparing to settle a long and costly antitrust battle with Microsoft Corp. with a deal to give Windows users a choice of web browsers.
Microsoft promised the changes after the EU charged it with monopoly abuse for tying the Internet Explorer browser to the Windows operating system installed on most of the world's desktop computers.
The European Commission said it would on Friday formally seek feedback from computer manufacturers, software companies and consumers on Microsoft's offer to allow users to pick one of 12 browsers when they install Windows. They have a month to respond to regulators.
If the feedback is positive, that could see Microsoft's offer turned into a legally binding settlement to last five years. It would end the EU antitrust case on browsers without adding to the $2.5 billion in fines that the company has already racked up.
EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said "Microsoft's commitments would indeed address our competition concerns" and they would have a "direct and immediate impact on the market."
Users of Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 — due to launch on Oct. 22 — will first see a screen that will tell them what web browsers are and then get a choice of "tell me more" buttons to give them details on what each browser can do.
They can then pick several browsers to install along with or instead of Internet Explorer.
Microsoft's browser is the most widely used worldwide, but Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox is gaining in popularity.
Mozilla and Google Inc. — which recently released its own browser, Chrome — are supporting the case against Microsoft. It was originally triggered by a complaint from Norwegian mobile browser company Opera Software ASA that Microsoft was abusing its monopoly to unfairly squeeze out rivals.
Regulators said they would be able to review how and which browsers are offered to make sure that consumers continue to have "genuine choice."
Kroes said a deal would not allow Microsoft to discriminate against personal computer manufacturers who decided to load PCs with another browser and disable Internet Explorer.
Most people buy the software pre-installed on a computer assembled by manufacturers such as Dell Inc. or Hewlett-Packard Co.
Microsoft has also committed to share more information with software developers to help them make products compatible with Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange and SharePoint. Microsoft will publish a new offer on its Web site.