Microsoft concedes in battle of the browsers

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IN ITS first real concession in what have become known as the "browser wars", the Microsoft computer software company yesterday said that it will allow Internet providers to promote non-Microsoft browsers on its Windows program.

It means Microsoft is dropping its requirement that they promote only its own browser, the Internet Explorer.

Microsoft told the European Commission of its move last week but only confirmed it publicly yesterday, the day before the company's chairman, Bill Gates, is to testify before the US Senate Judiciary Committee.

A browser provides Internet access; Microsoft's condition that Internet providers promote only Explorer brought accusations that it is seeking to control access to the global information network.

But Microsoft has not addressed the larger question of technology "bundling", the subject of a suit by the US Justice Department, which accuses Microsoft of obliging computer-makers to install Microsoft's browser as a condition of installing Windows. It also accuses Microsoft of trying to bind the browser so closely into Windows that computer-makers will have no choice but to take both or neither. This, it says, is a breach of a 1995 undertaking designed to preserve competition.

Some 90 per cent of personal computers sold world-wide come with Windows preinstalled and Microsoft's rivals say it is abusing its market position to squeeze out competitors. This is the issue that will be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee today, when Mr Gates can expect a thorough grilling about his business strategy.