EU to Microsoft on Browser Compliance: Prepare to be Punished
October 24, 2012 12:38 PM
Regulators don't buy Microsoft's excuses about a "technical error"
It had seemed that Microsoft Corp. (
) 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
. 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
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
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.
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.
"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
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