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 NellyFromMA on 10/24/2012 2:56:11 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, it is strange when the law of the land is one-sided, biased, and not sensible. OS X offers no ballot screen. Android nor iOS do either.

Add to themix the fact that browsers are not paid-for products and its quite clear what the motivations behind these money grabs are.

Attempts to justify it simply do not stand up to the facts of common sense, independant of laws written.

RE: If I was MS
By raddude9 on 10/24/2012 4:11:42 PM , Rating: 1
So is it common sense to allow microsoft to dominate and manipulate internet standards with the sole purpose of perpetuating their windows monopoly, because that's what they were doing until governments got tough on them.
How about the benefits of browser competition to consumers, is it not common sense that healthy browser competition is good for consumers.
But then again I'm talking about common sense for people, not for corporations.

RE: If I was MS
By FITCamaro on 10/24/2012 5:05:59 PM , Rating: 2
You have no logical argument that there isn't competition in the browser market. In the time of so-called dominance, two major competitors to IE have arisen and stolen huge chunks of IE's market share.

Chrome now leads the browser pack. And Firefox is just behind IE's marketshare. Those figures get worse for IE every day.

This is not about browser share. This is about money. Pure and simple. After this next they'll find some other BS that Microsoft is doing that they don't like that they can fine them for. All while ignoring the FAR more closed architecture of Apple's computers.

Maybe I should move there and file a complaint with the EU that I can't build my own computer and put Apple's OS on it. Clearly anti-competitive for other's who want to build computers with Apple's OS on it. Somehow I don't think you morons would agree with that lawsuit.

RE: If I was MS
By raddude9 on 10/25/2012 4:42:01 AM , Rating: 1
LOL. You have no argument that the competition in the browser market was not facilitated by government intervention. When the EU started looking into the current case in 2004, microsoft had 91% of the browser market.
Without government oversight microsoft would have continued to use their position to bully competitors and buy their way to the top of the browser pile.

This is not about browser market share. This is about protecting consumers from a company which has, time and again, been shown (in court) that it has abused its monopoly position.

RE: If I was MS
By FITCamaro on 10/25/2012 7:14:48 AM , Rating: 2
Yes because Mozilla wouldn't have created Firefox but for the EU. Google wouldn't have been founded and created Chrome but for the EU.

About the only good thing that the US government and the EU did was force Microsoft to make IE less integral to the operating system, namely Windows Updates.

Even before that happened though, you could use other browsers on Windows just fine. In college when Firefox first came out, I started using it and the only reason I ever used IE was to run Windows Update when putting together a machine. A lack of some screen letting people pick a browser didn't stop anyone from using another one. User stupidity is not an excuse to fine a company.

The craziest part of it all is that now because of this increased competition, IE is actually becoming a pretty good browser. IE9 actually uses less memory than Firefox. Reviews of it give it pros and cons to other browsers rather than just all cons. I really only stick with Firefox due to it just being what I've used for the last decade.

The only reason I ever use IE is because my work is developing a web application that has to work in IE7 due to the governments horrible adoption rate for new technology. So I have to test in IE9 in IE7 mode or boot up a VM to run XP so I can test in native IE7. Luckily the IE7 mode in IE9 is 95% accurate to native IE7 behavior because I hate having to run a VM.

RE: If I was MS
By raddude9 on 10/25/2012 8:32:15 AM , Rating: 1
Sure, the EU didn't invert Firefox or Chrome (WebKit really), but they did create an environment in which they could flourish. And as you say, this led to improvements in IE as well, so because of these government actions (both EU and US) the consumer has greatly benefited.

We're not quite out of the woods yet, as you mentioned, many web sites were created to work just on IE, (often using microsoft proprietary ActiveX controls and the like) but at least it's headed in the right direction.

RE: If I was MS
By FITCamaro on 10/25/2012 2:29:25 PM , Rating: 2
Show me a website today that still depends on ActiveX controls. Sure there are internal company and government sites that do. But I mean the general web.

Firefox and Chrome would have flourished regardless of whether IE had changed or not. People simply would have still used another browser for general web browsing while only using IE when absolutely necessary. Some of you guys must be working with the Obama campaign with how you love to credit government for solving problems and businesses creating things.

RE: If I was MS
By raddude9 on 10/26/2012 4:34:20 AM , Rating: 2
As you say, there are still many internal and government web sites that still rely on ActiveX, and there aren't many general web sites that rely on it now, but there used to be many, because microsoft wanted to circumvent the open standards and cause websites to only work 'properly' on its own operating system. Without oversight of microsoft this might not have been the case today.

Firefox and Chrome would have flourished

You can't prove that they would have flourished without government intervention, all it would have taken is some dirty API tricks (like they've pulled many times before) from mircosoft and it would have made alternative browsers a lot less attractive.
Sure try to bring Obama into an argument that has nothing to do with him. microsoft have a history of breaking the law, and they have shown that they need to be monitored by ALL governments (not just Obama and the US government) to ensure that they adhere to the law.

RE: If I was MS
By FITCamaro on 10/26/2012 9:24:18 AM , Rating: 2
You can't prove that they wouldn't have either.

RE: If I was MS
By vXv on 10/24/2012 6:23:53 PM , Rating: 2
There is no law mandating a bailout screen. The law simply says that you are not allowed to leverage a dominance in one market to gain control over another market (like MS did from the OS to the browser market).

The bailout screen is just an agreement MS did with the EU to avoid fines. And now they did not comply by not having the screen for almost a year ... hence the EU is upset.

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