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 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.

"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone

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