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Microsoft has offered to let European PC customers pick the browser they want running on Windows PCs, hoping to placate anti-trust regulators.

Users will be able to pick one of five most popular browsers via a proposed Ballot Screen, which will be available for download to Windows Vista and Windows XP via software update, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft also plans to ship the screen with future releases of Windows. That means that if Microsoft's offer is accepted by the European Union regulators, Windows 7 will be Microsoft's first client operating system that lets users chose a browser at the start rather than work only with Internet Explorer. Windows 7 will still ship with Microsoft's own browser, IE.

The five browsers offered will be determined by averaging monthly use-share date for the past six months.

Once a browser is picked, an install link will connect the user to the browser manufacturer's site to begin download, Microsoft said.

The offer is part of package of proposals for EU regulators, who this year said Microsoft had violated anti-trust law by integrating Windows with IE.

Microsoft has also promised a mechanism for PC manufacturers and users in the EU to turn off its browser, IE, and to make IE unavailable from launch.

IE would not be turned on through anything other than user action, and there won't be any icons, links, or short cuts in Windows to download or install the browser.

A major hurdle to letting other browsers work with features in Windows has been the close degree of integration between IE and the operating system. Microsoft said it'll disclose all the Windows APIs that IE relies on in a "complete, accurate and timely manner" so rival browsers are not at a competitive disadvantage to Microsoft.

Furthermore, Microsoft said, OEMs are free to develop, install and distribute their own choice of browser, promising it wouldn't retaliate or terminate an OEM's Windows license without first giving written notice of the reasons of any cancellation

EU anti-trust regulators welcomed this latest settlement proposal from Microsoft and noted it was the result of "extensive" discussions. The Commission refrained from further comment.

The settlement follows an earlier offer from Microsoft to simply remove IE from Windows 7, in a move it said was designed to comply with EU antitrust law but that should have been seen more as an attempt to exert pressure on regulators from disgruntled consumers and OEMs. ®

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