Microsoft announced Wednesday that regulators in the European Union (EU) are moving toward a settlement that would end years of lengthy and expensive antitrust battles there. But first, the EU will seek feedback to determine whether Microsoft's efforts to detach its Internet Explorer (IE) web browser from Windows meet the needs of PC makers, software makers, and users.

"We are moving towards a very satisfactory resolution \[of the Microsoft antitrust case\]," EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said Wednesday. "I am very positive about this initiative. Microsoft's commitments would indeed address our competition concerns \[and have\] a direct and immediate impact on the market."

Microsoft proposed a so-called ballot screen for Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP that would provide users with a choice between IE and competing browsers. (PC makers, of course, could preinstall their browser of choice and even remove IE.)

Smelling blood in the water, competing browser makers such as Opera, Mozilla, and Google have called for Microsoft to do more. But Microsoft made minor concessions based on this feedback, and the EU indicated today that Microsoft's current proposal appears to meet legal requirements and give users "genuine choice." Furthermore, Microsoft would be prevented from retaliating against PC makers that choose non-IE browsers.

Assuming the feedback is largely positive, the EU should be able to settle the case with Microsoft soon, then enter into a five-year agreement with Microsoft. "Hopefully we can make a decision before the end of the year," Ms. Kroes said. She also expects to settle a related antitrust issue with the software giant around software interoperability in the same time frame.

For its part, Microsoft believes it's on the cusp of putting its EU antitrust nightmare behind it. "We welcome today's announcement by the European Commission to move forward with formal market testing of Microsoft's proposal relating to web browser choice in Europe," Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said. "We also welcome the opportunity to take the next step in the process regarding our proposal to promote interoperability with a broad range of our products."