Microsoft accused of monopoly abuse over IE

Microsoft's bundling of its Internet Explorer (IE) browser with its Windows operating system (OS) is harming competition, the European Commission (EC) has ruled.

In a statement, the EC said its preliminary conclusion was "that Microsoft's tying of Internet Explorer to the Windows operating system harms competition between web browsers, undermines product innovation and ultimately reduces consumer choice."

The commission said its evidence suggested that tying IE to Windows meant the browser was automatically sitting on 90 per cent of the world's PCs, giving it an artificial advantage. "The commission is concerned that through the tying, Microsoft shields Internet Explorer from head-to-head competition with other browsers, which is detrimental to the pace of product innovation and to the quality of products which consumers ultimately obtain," the body said.

The commission isn't just worried about users, but developers, too. It said IE's dominance meant developers and content providers were more likely to create sites and software designed specifically for the Microsoft browser, further hurting competition and innovation.

IE holds just under 70 per cent of the market share, well ahead of the next browser, Mozilla's Firefox, which holds about 20 per cent, according to the latest browser figures from Net Apps.

Opera, which holds under one per cent of the market, was happy about the ruling. "On behalf of all internet users, we commend the commission for taking the next step towards restoring competition in a market that Microsoft has strangled for more than a decade," said Jon von Tetzchner, the chief executive of Opera.

The commission said the distribution of IE on Windows is against European treaty rules on "abuse of a dominant position," and based the judgement on a previous case involving Microsoft, where the EC decided that including Windows Media Player in its OS was anti-competitive.

Microsoft has eight weeks to reply to the European Commission, after which the legal body could again fine the software giant.

In a statement, Microsoft said: "We are committed to conducting our business in full compliance with European law."