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MS proposes three browser ‘ballot’ system for PCs

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MS on Trial Settlement talks between Microsoft and the Department of Justice would seem to be on again (sort of), and a couple of Microsoft offers have surfaced. They certainly indicate that Microsoft has been getting keener on cutting a deal, but they're clearly not enough to get the DoJ to back off. The offers seem to fall into three categories at the moment, one weird, one dubious and one fuzzy. Being a serious journal of record, we'll naturally deal with the weird one, the browser solution, first. Microsoft is suggesting a ballot screen that will allow users to select their browser of choice as the software installs, so during the installation process you'd get to choose IE, Navigator or Opera. This is weird for a number of reasons. First of all, if Microsoft really is suggesting this, it casts an interesting light on all those claims its witnesses (hiya Jimbo) have been making about how the browser is integrated into the OS and how you can't remove it without breaking features. Second, it leaves quite a bit of scope for the continuation of Microsoft's control over the installation and initial boot sequence of a PC. Microsoft could write bizarre contracts that forced its OEMs to ship all three browsers whether they wanted to or not, control the way the ballot was presented to the user, and then protest that its hands were tied because of the latest DoJ consent decree. The dubious one is to do with contracts. It's prepared to dump exclusive deals with ISPs, and to give PC manufacturers greater freedom in terms of bundling software from rival companies and doing their own deals with ISPs. That possibly implies that it's not suggesting dumping exclusive deals with PC companies, but written-down exclusives really aren't that important for Microsoft. Co-op marketing deals, soft dollars and discounts offered to PC companies and ISPs on the achievement of target shipments are rather more important. So you could see how Microsoft could work on the wording of a deal with a view to skating neatly round the edges after it's signed. Finally our fuzzy one is disclosure of Windows APIs. Microsoft already does disclose APIs - eventually, with timing depending on who you are - so the company will probably try to get away with vague promises to be good, and then to carry on more or less as normal with its groups of friends and enemies. But even if it really was good on APIs, that's not even the half of it. Control of the software platform means that Microsoft can grant and withhold information, depending on who you are, and can break rival software and consolidate its control over sectors via repeated upgrades and 'musical DLLs.' It's not entirely obvious that there is a solution to this one, considering we're dealing with a whole approach to develop and how it integrates with marketing and corporate strategy here. Maybe the DoJ should just insist that Microsoft just says sorry for Windows and shoots it (this is an exclusive Register MS Remedies suggestion). Overall, the offers don't go far enough, and are too vague to win over a DoJ which must by now be absolutely convinced it has Microsoft nailed. But tentative lines of communication remain open, and even if Microsoft's corporate mind doesn't get sufficiently concentrated over the summer, Judge Jackson's initial ruling, which will be a "finding of facts," not a full judgement, could induce it to up the bids. ® Complete Register Trial coverage

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