EU antitrust regulators accepted on Wednesday Microsoft's offer to allow users in Europe choose rival Internet browsers, ending a decade-long dispute and averting a possible fine for the company.

The European Commission has to date imposed fines totalling 1.68 billion euros ($2.44 billion) on the U.S. software giant for infringing EU antitrust rules. The European Union executive said Microsoft's legally binding pledge addressed its concerns that the company may have breached EU antitrust rules by bundling its Internet Explorer web browser with its dominant Windows operating system. “Millions of European consumers will benefit from this decision by having a free choice about which web browser they use,” Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement. She said the company's pledge was an incentive for web browser companies to innovate and offer better browsers in the future. Microsoft's commitments will be valid in the European Economic Area for five years, the Commission said. The European Union executive had in January accused Microsoft of seeking to thwart rivals by bundling the company's Web browser with its Windows PC operating system, thereby harming innovation and reducing consumer choice.

The charge was triggered by a complaint from Norwegian browser maker Opera. Microsoft's Internet Explorer is used for about 56 percent of global Internet traffic, Mozilla's Firefox about 32 percent and Opera 2 percent, just ahead of Google and Apple Inc's Safari, according to Web analytics firm StatCounter.

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