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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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Simple equation
By Trisped on 3/1/2013 4:10:54 PM , Rating: 2
<rant> (press - on top left to collapse)

It is a simple equation.
People use the simplest path. This is why Safari and IE had large followings, they were the browser which came with the OS.
Because Microsoft controlled the majority of the OS business, and the majority the users of its OS stuck with the default browser, Microsoft never needed to fix the glaring issues of IE.

The browser voting screen only drove people away from IE (in large numbers). They found that most people who preferred another browser kept using that browser (so select FireFox, Chrome, or whatever they were using). Those who were just using the default browser would often randomly chose a browser. Of those random choices ~10% to 20% would switch browsers latter, the remaining kept their selected browser.
The browser voting screen put IE's usage rates in free fall and threatened to move the browser out of the top 5.

Microsoft had a few choices:
• Remove the ballot screen (and stop the free fall).
• Get the word out about its browser.
• Make the browser look more modern.
• Fix the issues with the browser.

Microsoft did all of these things except the last. The browser is still a pain to develop for, slow, and lagging in support for new HTML features. Until it is forced to compete on equal footing, IE will continue to have these issues.

I agree with the EU, Microsoft should be required to give users a choice of which browser to use when they first log onto a computer.
I think it would be fair to give Microsoft 6 months time to start fixing the problems with IE. That being said, it has been over six months since the original ruling came down so it is a moot point. Also, if Microsoft had continued to invest in the platform as they had at the start then they would not need to do so much catch up now.
I think the EU should expand its ruling to cover any OS which comes pre-installed on over 1 million consumer devices. It does not seem fair to me only Microsoft's desktop operating system is required to give users a browser choice but not any other OS on a commercial device (OSX, iOS, Android, WP8, etc.). If it applies to one, then to be fair, it should apply to all.

</rant>




RE: Simple equation
By JKflipflop98 on 3/1/2013 7:49:43 PM , Rating: 2
WTF is this crap? You have a choice of any browser you want right out of the box. All you have to do is go download it FFS. Are you really so dumb and lazy that you need a list of all of them flashed before you on boot?


RE: Simple equation
By TSS on 3/2/2013 7:49:26 AM , Rating: 2
You're so absorbed in your own world that you cannot fathom somebody else not knowing what a browser *is*, do you? Much less that there are multiple options if not given to you.

I agree with his suggestion. Where was the ballot box on the android device i recently bought? It had the default browser (chrome knockoff) and chrome pre-installed. And to be honest, i just use the default browser, serves my all of my smartphone needs. When i first got it though, i was used to chrome, so i probably would've selected chrome in a selection box. Or a mobile firefox since i'm not all that keep on how google tracks just about everything.

No such icon on the desktop though, nor a choice menu, just a list of 4 icons one of which the google play store and the other one said "internet". So i've been using that one ever since. And i'm actually a tech savvy user (just can't care that much about smartphone usages. Don't even have a subscription, i just use teh wifi's).


RE: Simple equation
By spronkey on 3/2/2013 4:49:53 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry but... what's wrong with IE? IE9 and 10 have CSS3 and HTML5 support that's more than fine, in many cases they are actually more complete browsers than the Webkit-based crowd. Their JS engines are also fine - and I have no significant issues developing quite complex JS apps on them. Oh, and they're fast! Don't forget that HTML5 and CSS3 aren't even standardised yet.

So please stop the IE bashing, these days it's just as good as the rest.

I agree that the EU should expand its ruling to cover all OSs - at the very least this would force Apple to (in the EU, at least) allow the default browser to be changed in iOS - I'm still amazed that this isn't seen as hugely monopolistic. At least MS let you change the default browser in Windows back when they bundled IE - Apple don't even allow that!

It's also useful to remember that a lot of people don't really understand what a browser is - so the ballot is somewhat confusing. To be honest, I don't have any issues with the OS vendor being able to put their browser first and claim that it's better than the others. As long as there's a simple choice.


RE: Simple equation
By Trisped on 3/5/2013 3:03:46 PM , Rating: 2
IE 9 has only partial CSS3 and HTML support.
IE takes forever to load, is slower when running complex javascript, and is slow loading the pages I visit regularly.

The only times I use IE are when I am testing a website I am developing or when I am posting a comment on MSDN (because strangely on IE does not put strange characters into the message). Every time I do use IE I am amazed at how many seconds I have to wait before it even starts loading the home page. I can not even use the menu while it is loading. With chrome I have never noticed a load time issue, as soon as I start the browser I can hit Alt-D, type in an address, and go.

So no, IE is still behind.

It is very easy to explain what a browser is, it is the thing you use to surf the web. The way Microsoft created the ballot screen they wanted it to appear confusing to the users so that they would take the one Microsoft suggested, rather then try out the other options. A more fair approach would be to keep a link to the ballot screen in the start menu, that way it would be easier for the average user to test out multiple browsers and find which one they like best.


RE: Simple equation
By Reclaimer77 on 3/3/2013 8:55:06 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
I agree with the EU, Microsoft should be required to give users a choice of which browser to use when they first log onto a computer.


I'm upset because when I first start up my Subaru, it doesn't ask me the choice of tires I'll be using for the day...

Seriously your argument starts out well reasoned, but when it hits this quote, derails and explodes right in the middle of Stupidville.


RE: Simple equation
By Trisped on 3/5/2013 3:18:45 PM , Rating: 2
Silly Reclaimer77, who is going to change the tires on their Subaru every day?

A more correct analogy would be requiring Subaru to provide you with a choice of tires when you purchase the car. Of course that analogy also does not work, as tires wear out and need to be replaced. When that happens you can use what ever tire you want. There is no wear out point on a browser when the user will have to pick a new browser, so it can easily be claimed that Microsoft is unfairly using their OS dominance to impose their browser dominance.


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