EU extends Microsoft's antitrust deadline over IE

Company must reply by April 21 to recent charges it 'shields' IE from rivals

Europe's antitrust regulators have extended Microsoft Corp.'s deadline to reply to accusations that the company "shields" Internet Explorer (IE) from competition by bundling the browser with Windows.

Microsoft will now have an additional six weeks to deliver its response, said Linda Cain, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, the European Union's antitrust agency. The new deadline is April 21.

The company's original deadline was tomorrow, eight weeks after the commission served Microsoft's with a list of charges, called a Statement of Objections, over its practice of including IE with Windows.

According to the commission, bundling IE "shields" the browser from head-to-head competition with other browsers and "distorts competition" by giving it an unfair distribution advantage.

The commission acted after Opera Software ASA, a Norwegian browser developer, filed a complaint in late 2007. Since the EU filed charges with Microsoft in January, two other browser makers -- Mozilla Corp. and Google Inc. -- have asked the commission to join the case as "interested third parties."

If Microsoft loses the case, it could be forced to offer other browsers with Windows and allow users to disable "certain unspecified" parts of IE "if a user chooses a competing browser," according to a Microsoft filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Just last week, Microsoft confirmed that Windows 7, the successor to Vista, will include an option that blocks some portions of IE from loading when the operating system boots.

Microsoft has declined comment on whether that option was prompted by the EU's legal threats.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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