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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 NellyFromMA on 10/24/2012 2:50:06 PM , Rating: 2
It's not Microsoft's responsility to enable its competitors to destroy it. The EU ruling was one of the single most harfmul things that happened to MS, and largely its an issue of perception.

There was no discrimination towards any other browser unless there is similar discrimination in the fact that competitors devices do not offer similar ballot screens as well. OS X does not, iOS does not, Android does not. So tell ME where teh integrity and honesty is! Also, tell me what country(s) stand to gain the most from this ruling.

Honesty and integrity have NOTHING to do with it. Greedy EU regulators who are overspent and green-eyed. Thats all.

Maybe MS SHOULD ignore the EU... From a business standpoint, I doubt they could truly survive, but it would be funny to see if Mozilla and family fill in the OS gap as a result and where THERE ballot screen would be.

It's BS and for whatever reason truly upsets me.


RE: If I was MS
By mike66 on 10/25/2012 1:30:55 AM , Rating: 1
Having no knowledge of the issue is what's upsetting you, MS needs to be regulated and heavily because they are theives who have never created anyrhing, GUI for a PC was basically created by Apple, Office stolen from word perfect, browser stolen from Netscape, hardware hash security pirate protection stolen from an Australian inventor. Gee that's about everything they do, if only they would stop the sale of the windows like they did with Samsung tablets/ mobile phones for copy right breach. MS the most in original company ever made or was it copied?


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