- 25 Jun 09, 14:45 GMT
Microsoft has just issued a press release and blog about the pricing of Windows 7 when it arrives on 22 October, which is so complex and so full of PR guff that I would have chucked it straight into my virtual bin, if I hadn't had a briefing from the company earlier today.
Luckily, during that telephone call with John Curran, Windows business lead, Microsoft UK, a story did emerge. And it's this - European consumers will be offered a browser-free Windows at a decent price to satisfy those fussy folks at the European Commission. The trouble is, that's unlikely to please either Brussels or consumers.
Microsoft is in the middle of another epic battle during its long war with the European Commission over the alleged abuse of its monopoly position. This time the issue is the bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows, the subject of complaints from rival browser makers.
Earlier this month Microsoft came up with a ploy it thought might satisfy the Commission, promising that Windows 7 would be released in Europe without any browser.
Today we learned that this would mean that European users who wanted to upgrade would have to install the full version - if they'd been offered the simpler upgrade, that would have simply imported their existing browser, almost certainly Internet Explorer, into their new setup.
But Microsoft says it's giving European users that full version for the same price that it would normally charge for an upgrade - £79.99 in the UK.
But here's the problem. You upgrade from XP or Vista to Windows 7, and then find you've got no browser. No problem, I hear you say, you just go and download one - say Firefox, or Chrome, or Safari or maybe Internet Explorer 8. Using your browser. Ahh...right.
Microsoft told me "we will have some answers" to this issue, but admitted there were "challenges and complexities" involved. But the company pointed out to me that the vast majority of Windows 7 users were likely to be people buying new computers, and the manufacturers were likely to pre-install a browser on those machines.
So what will the likes of Dell, Toshiba, HP or Lenovo choose to install? Internet Explorer 8, perhaps?
John Curran from Microsoft said the whole aim of the European version of Windows 7 was to make sure that the company was "in full compliance with EU law." I rang a man in Brussels to ask whether the European Commission was impressed by Microsoft's behaviour.
The sound of loud harrumphing came whistling down the line. "For them to claim they're doing this in order to comply with European law is just nonsense," he told me, although he used a slightly stronger term than nonsense.
He explained that Brussels had suggested an alternative approach, whereby consumers were offered a "ballot screen" when they first turned on a Windows 7 computer, allowing them to choose from a menu of different browsers.
And he pointed out that if the whole business ends up with Microsoft somehow persuading manufacturers to install Internet Explorer on their machines, then consumers will be no better off.
Microsoft believes it's offering European consumers a compelling product while satisfying the concerns of the regulators. But the next move will come from Brussels - and it looks likely that Microsoft will be ordered to offer not a browser-free Windows 7 but one with a full menu of choices.
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