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EU looks to punish Microsoft for browser non-compliance, and make a bit of extra revenue in the process

To date the European Union's antitrust regulatory body, the European Commission (EC), has pummeled operating system maker Microsoft Corp. (MSFTwith €1.6B ($2.1B USD) in fines for allegedly using abusive anticompetitive tactics in the European market.  But the EU is far from done.

According to Reuters, highly placed sources in the EC say that Microsoft will face more fines before the end of the month.  The commission's pending decision follows a so-called "statement of objections" filed last October.  One source at the EC comments, "The Commission is planning to fine Microsoft before the Easter break."

The planned action could slip a week or two, though, due to procedural issues.

Microsoft was mandated by the EU to provide a browser selection screen with Windows 7.  It did, but the browser selection screen mysteriously stopped working with Windows 7's first service pack.  Microsoft claims this was due to a "coding error".

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

That little "whoops" and Microsoft's baffling decision to test the EU's resolve, declining to rush a fix may cost Microsoft dearly.  Experts say Microsoft could potentially face a billion dollar fine or more.

Microsoft's board is unhappy with CEO Steve Ballmer for failing to address the issue.  In an annual proxy statement filed last October it cited that as one reason for cutting the rambunctious chief's bonus (this was not the first time Mr. Ballmer had his bonus cut for mistakes).

The EC's decision to mandate a browser choice screen dates back to 2009 when Microsoft had more of a dominant position in the EU browser market.  Today Microsoft is in third place with only about 24 percent of the market, behind Google Inc.'s (GOOG) 35 percent and Mozilla's 29 percent.  The browser selection screen appeared to be a key driving factor in Microsoft's slipping market share.

Some argue that Microsoft's trailing position makes the decision to continue browser selection screen enforcement unfair.  Others argue that Microsoft's dominant market share with Windows would be too dangerous were it not for continued enforcement.

Source: Reuters

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Release a new 'N' version of Windows
By Nekrik on 3/1/2013 2:36:34 PM , Rating: 2
Don't include any browsers, but also remove the TCP stack so it's just a standalone machine with no networking or web access. See how much they like the idea of having to manually build the stack from scratch and then FTPing in to get their precious competing browsers.

RE: Release a new 'N' version of Windows
By CaedenV on 3/1/2013 5:16:54 PM , Rating: 2
If I was president of MS for a day I would so do this. I would go a step further and include this as a Windows Update. Write a nice little email to the EU explaining why you did what you did, and when they call in complaining I would play innocent and say "didn't you get my email?"

The other option of course would be to send the EU a bill to pay for the time required to make the changes in the product. Most of the time you get to pay extra for a custom product, perhaps it is time that Windows EU should be treated like a custom product as well.

But then again, this is probably why I am not the president of MS.

By Alexvrb on 3/3/2013 2:00:29 PM , Rating: 2
No. I wish people would stop saying this like it's a new idea. Years ago, MS actually suggested to the EC that they would release a version of Windows 7 without a browser to satisy their complaints. In other words MS already tried this. The EC basically told them that if they did this, they would rape MS hard. They essentially forced them into the browser ballot.

That's from the European Commission, and this is the EC statement issued after MS said they would release a browser-free version of Windows 7. The ballot was not MS' idea. The EC, in that document, put forth the browser ballot, with more than a hint of "Do this or we screw you harder than usual". Just search the document for ballot.

Keep in mind too that this whole mess only really affected retail copies of Windows 7. OEMs would continue to be free to preinstall IE or whatever they wanted. The EC doesn't bother proving damage or harm to consumers, and yet claims they're doing this for the little guy. Horse poop. They're doing it to line their pockets, and to help poor lil' Opera who whined about the whole thing. Chrome and Firefox did just fine before a ballot.

Ironically, now Opera is becoming YAWB (Yet Another Webkit Browser). So instead of continuing to champion genuine standards, they're contributing to making Webkit the de facto standard.

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