BRUSSELS (AP) – Microsoft Corp. will offer computer users a choice of Web browsers to ward off new European Union antitrust fines, EU regulators and Microsoft said Friday.

Microsoft said its proposal – if accepted by the European Commission – would “fully address” antitrust worries over its browser and “would mark a big step forward in addressing a decade of legal issues.”

The EU executive has charged the company with monopoly abuse for tying the Internet Explorer browser to the Windows operating system installed on most of the world’s desktop computers.

It said it welcomed Microsoft’s suggestions but would have to check how they would work and whether they would ensure “genuine consumer choice.”

Regulators will also examine a new offer by Microsoft to share information with software developers who want to make products compatible with Windows and Windows servers. That aims to settle a lengthy antitrust row that has racked up nearly €1.7 million ($2.42 million) in EU fines for Microsoft.

On the browser case, Microsoft is suggesting that consumers pick a browser from several offered on a ballot screen in its new software release, Windows 7, which will go on sale Oct. 22.

Windows would still include Internet Explorer, but users would be able to disable it. Computer manufacturers could also choose to install other browsers, set them as default and disable Internet Explorer.

Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith said this would allow the company to ship Windows 7 to European customers with Internet Explorer. The company said in June that it would strip the browser out of Windows 7 in Europe to avoid antitrust problems.

Smith said the pressure was now on EU regulators to approve a new option or Microsoft would keep on supplying its “E” version without any browser.

“PC manufacturers building machines for the European market will continue to be required to ship E versions of Windows 7 until such time that the Commission fully reviews our proposals and determines whether they satisfy our obligations under European law,” he said.

EU regulators slammed that version as giving no real choice to the 5 percent of customers who buy Windows in a stand-alone pack. Most people buy the software pre-installed on a computer assembled by manufacturers such as Dell or HP.

The ballot screen that Microsoft is now proposing is close to what regulators called for in January when they asked Microsoft to offer several browsers on Windows.

It is also backed by Norwegian mobile Internet browser maker Opera Software ASA, which triggered the EU antitrust case by complaining that Microsoft was unfairly using its power as the dominant supplier of operating system software to squeeze out rivals.

Opera lawyer Thomas Vinje welcomed Microsoft’s announcement Friday but said “the devil is in the detail” on how far it would go to calm antitrust fears.

Microsoft said it was also promising to share more interoperability information with developers to help them make software that works with Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange and SharePoint.

Smith said this involve “significant change by Microsoft” and was based on long talks with EU regulators. He said they also include enforceable warranty commitments.

“We believe that if ultimately accepted, this proposal will fully address the European competition law issues relating to the inclusion of Internet Explorer in Windows and interoperability with our high-volume products,” he said.

EU officials have warned that the browser case targets a possible violation of antitrust rules since 1996. Microsoft’s proposal affects only its latest browser.

Microsoft says it will publish its proposals on its Web site.


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