EU drops Microsoft antitrust charges

The European Union has announced that it's dropping all antitrust charges against Microsoft, following the software giant's agreement to offer a choice of 12 web browsers to owners of its operating system.

The deal will see users get a "ballot screen" - a popup that gives the user the option to downloadĀ Apple's Safari, Google's Chrome, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Mozilla's Firefox, Opera, AOL, Maxthon, K-Meleon, Flock, Avant Browser, Sleipnir and Slim Browser.

Those offerings range from the sublime to the terrible, but represent the 12 most-widely used web browsers running on Windows. From March, 100 million computers will display the screen and over the next 5 years another 30 million will get it as they buy new PCs.

The move will dramatically shake up the already-shifting browser market, putting the spotlight on Chrome and Opera, which stand to benefit the most - both browsers which are critically well-regarded but suffer from small marketshare.

The EU says that browser manufacturers won't be the only ones to benefit - "Millions of European consumers will benefit from this decision by having a free choice about which web browser they use" said EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes.

If Microsoft doesn't stick with the ballot screen for the next 5 years, it'll be fined 10% of yearly turnover. The company has already paid 1.7 billion euros in fines.

Update: Microsoft has issued a statement, saying that it's "pleased" by the decision, calling it an "important day and a major step forward", but warning that it'll "require significant change within Microsoft".