In what is becoming an increasingly common move, Microsoft this week caved to more demands from browser maker Opera by agreeing to further change the proposed browser-ballot screen it will provide in European versions of Windows. Now, the order in which the alternative browsers are presented will be randomized so that the most popular browsers won't always be listed first.

This development provides Opera—which controlled just 1.5 percent of the web browser market in October, well behind all other browsers—with an artificially prominent spot on a list that, quite frankly, it shouldn't even be included in. But Opera, of course, was the company that first complained to the European Union (EU) about Microsoft's allegedly anti-competitive behavior, and Opera now is treated as an equal to Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla, companies that make browsers that are actually used by a measurably large audience.

Although neither Microsoft nor the EU have officially confirmed the change, numerous sources close to the case, as well as recent statements made by EU officials, suggest that a deal has already been made. "We have addressed the issues raised in the market test and we think we now have the basis for quite a robust remedy," confirmed Philip Lowe, the European Commission's (EC'S) Directorate General for Competition, when asked about the changes. "We've concluded our discussions with Microsoft."

Microsoft also made another small concession by presenting the ballot screen in a generic application window rather than inside Internet Explorer (IE) as per its original mockup design. Assuming these changes are approved by EU antitrust regulators—and that appears to be exactly what's happening—Microsoft should be able to resolve its most pressing EU antitrust case before the end of the year. An EU college of commissioners is set to meet December 15 to vote to conclude the case.

That conclusion would pave the way for an update to Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP—perhaps tied to the Windows 7 SP1 release that's scheduled for October 2010—that would ship electronically to customers in Europe. This update will provide customers with the browser-ballot screen and would be included by default in all future shipping versions of these products in the EU.