Print 80 comment(s) - last by FITCamaro.. on Oct 26 at 9:24 AM

Regulators don't buy Microsoft's excuses about a "technical error"

It had seemed that Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and the European union had finally resolved their differences when it came to antitrust issues.  Microsoft agreed that it would offer a special "ballot screen", which would give users the choice of multiple browsers when they first installed or used Windows 7 -- and as a result, third-party browser makers would be on a level playing field and face no "bundling" discrimination.  The EU asserts its claims were validated, as the ballot screen appeared to cause a large drop in Microsoft's EU browser market share.

But that fragile true has been shattered when Microsoft went back on its promise, and stopped offering the ballot screen -- temporarily -- with the rollout of Windows 7 SP1.  Microsoft in past comments has blamed the abandonment of the option on an undisclosed "technical error" in the update.

EU regulators are unsympathetic.

This week they announced a so-called "statement of objections" -- a procedural step serves as a warning of impending punishments.

The EU's antitrust regulator, the European Commission writes:

The European Commission has informed Microsoft of its preliminary view that Microsoft has failed to comply with its commitments to offer users a choice screen enabling them to easily choose their preferred web browser. In 2009, the Commission had made these commitments legally binding on Microsoft (see IP/09/1941)....

In its statement of objections, the Commission takes the preliminary view that Microsoft has failed to roll out the browser choice screen with its Windows 7 Service Pack 1, which was released in February 2011. From February 2011 until July 2012, millions of Windows users in the EU may not have seen the choice screen. Microsoft has acknowledged that the choice screen was not displayed during that period.

Browser Ballot Box
Microsoft's Windows 7 Service Pack 1 "accidentally" turned off the browser ballot box.
[Image Source: Telegraph UK]

It's hard to say what, if anything, Microsoft can do at this point to avoid punishment for "accidentally" breaking its agreement with the EU.  One important thing to note, though, is that the precise punishment has not been announced.  Thus it is probably in Microsoft's best interest to provide sound technical evidence (if it has it) supporting its assertion that the ballot screen was turned off on accident.

The company faces tough questions, in the sense that even if it's telling the truth about the initial error being accidental, that it's hard to believe that the company wouldn't notice the ballot screen being gone for a full year.  Add to that the background that Microsoft had seen its market share disintegrate after the browser screen went live, and the picture painted is rather incriminating.

Microsoft has struggled in the past with the region's stricter antitrust laws.  It recently lost its appeal to vacate a €899M fine, although the EC did kindly reduce it to a mere €860M ($1.1B USD).  The software giant has paid close to $2B USD in total fines to the European union for antitrust offenses.  

Microsoft is also being investigated for API abuse, following claims by third party browser makers that they were being "excluded" from the ARM-architecture-compatible version of Windows 8.

Source: EU

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RE: If I was MS
By corduroygt on 10/24/2012 2:01:50 PM , Rating: 2
They are not forced to do anything. Microsoft can stop selling in the EU if they don't want to play by EU's rules. Obviously paying the fines is a lot cheaper than the profits that would be lost by not selling in the EU, so MS goes along with it and pays the fines.

RE: If I was MS
By FITCamaro on 10/24/2012 4:59:19 PM , Rating: 5
Yes because a company should be forced to choose not to do business due to ridiculous decisions by greedy politicians who are also hypocritical since they have done absolutely nothing to Apple who has nearly 100% dominance in the media player market and over 80% dominance in the tablet market. Where are the mandates that Apple open up its OS to allow competitors to iTunes, iMovie, Safari, etc?

Oh right we'll just ignore all that because we have to get that big, bad Microsoft. You're a tool. The worst part is you don't even realize it.

RE: If I was MS
By corduroygt on 10/24/2012 11:21:25 PM , Rating: 2
It's capitalism buddy. If you can make a profit, you'll sell your product in that market. MS isn't run by fanboys, and any idiot who'd pull out of Europe and forego billions of dollars of profit every year would be fired on the spot.

RE: If I was MS
By corduroygt on 10/24/2012 11:22:09 PM , Rating: 2
And Apple gets away with it because they don't sell their OS standalone to run on any hardware.

RE: If I was MS
By FITCamaro on 10/25/2012 7:01:33 AM , Rating: 2
I wasn't the one saying they should either comply or leave. You were.

No it is not capitalism when some companies are unfairly targeted for supposed monopoly behavior. Did Microsoft use IE to stifle competition in the past? Yes. And they were already punished for it. But today, that is no longer the case. Today there are several major browsers.

Windows 7 does not integrate any core functionality into IE. In the past it was the only way to go get updates. That has long not been the case. Windows works perfectly fine without IE today. Having a browser selection screen does not do anything that people cannot do with their own brain. Those who would already not use IE aren't going to use it because they don't have a screen at install giving them a browser choice. Not bundling a browser with Windows would be absurd. Any operating system does that.

RE: If I was MS
By corduroygt on 10/25/2012 9:01:00 AM , Rating: 1
It's the democratically elected EU politicians who are imposing the will of the people. You have a problem with democracy when it doesn't go the way you want?

If it weren't for them, half the web would be ActiveX only by now...

"Let's face it, we're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn." -- Seagate CEO Bill Watkins

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