EU investigation of Microsoft over browser choice moves forward: Report

EU investigation of Microsoft over browser choice moves forward: Report

Summary: Antitrust regulators are said to be moving ahead in investigating Microsoft's failure to provide a browser choice screen on PCs in the EU.

TOPICS: Browser, Legal, Microsoft

Bloomberg is reporting European Union antitrust regulators are moving ahead with their investigation of Microsoft's failure to fulfill its obligation to provide users with Web-browser choice.


Bloomberg cited in a September 18 report "two people familiar with the matter" claiming that the EU is preparing a formal complaint.

If true, the news isn't surprising given the European Commission acknowledged back in July 2012 that it had received complaints that Microsoft wasn't providing users with broswer choice. At that point, the EU opened an probe into Microsoft's behavior.

Microsoft admitted quickly it had failed to offer the browser ballot screen since February 2011. The Redmondians cited a a "technical error" led to the browser ballot update not being included in the store-shelf version of Windows 7 with Service Pack 1. The result? Microsoft "missed serving the [browser ballot] software to the roughly 28 million PCs running Windows 7 SP1," company officials conceded.

Microsoft offered to make immediate amends, and developed a software fix that would distribute the browser choice screen to PCs running Windows 7 Service Pack 1. The company also hired "experienced outside counsel" to figure out how the omission occured and to prevent it from happening in the future. Microsoft also voluntarily offered to extend the time during which it is obliged to offer the browser-choice screen by 15 additional months.

"We understand that the Commission may decide to impose other sanctions," officials noted in their July statement.

Microsoft is offering no further comment beyond that July statement, a spokesperson told me on September 18.

Microsoft began delivering an update to Windows 8 users to enable the "browser ballot" screen earlier this month, even though the operating system's general availability date is a month away.

In 2009, Microsoft was found by European antitrust authorities to have abused its dominant operating-system market position by bundling Internet Explorer with the desktop software. Microsoft settled the case with Europe, and agreed to provide Windows users there with a browser choice screen, as of February 2010.

Topics: Browser, Legal, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • huh...

    This browser ballot nonsense is stupid. MS isn't locking out any other web browser from being installed on Windows systems. They're just not advertising the competition. If people want choice they should do the research themselves, not have it crammed down their throats.
    • To be honest, I'm with you.

      Apple also don't offer you a browser choice at install, your phone doesn't ask you to choose a browser during install, even the majority of open source operating sustems don't provide a selection screen on the desfault install.

      As far as I see it a browser is nowadays an essential part of a pc/smart phone OS, and as such the maker/compiler of that OS should provide a broswer, just as they provide media players, burning software, calculator. It actually used to annoye that I couldn't buy windows or mac with their office applications (again open source OS typically choose this for you.)

      Now I can understand forcing them to display a screen that says there are options, or at the very least forcing them to allow you to uninstall the default browser, but let's be honest I don't see how it helps anyone to have to go through an hour long set up questionaire where you choose your browser,media player, burning software, etc... That's just annoying and still wont make a difference as people who don't know about firefox will still choose "default".
      • EU will somehow find MSFT guilty and then fine them 10B $

        EU is so short of money under the PIIGS mess they'd willing to try anything.
      • And you're completely clueless

        It's not about advertizing for the competition, but failure to adhere to a mutually agreed upon remedy for their transgressions. It's like saying Microsoft agreed to this, to avoid fines, and stiffer punishments. Then let Microsoft skate on their punishment. Because they don't feel like sticking to their contract. If they can't honor this contract, how do you think they'll act with other companies?
        Troll Hunter J
        • *face-palm*

          That was kind of my point; that it's a waste if everyones time and money to save face and flex muscle; we are very used to it in europe.

          My point was that this isn't going to help joe public any, sure it'd be nice to be able to uninstall IE, but as usualy it wont achieve it's goals and runs the risks of creating yet more red tape; particularly in an area that doesn't need it.
        • *face-palm*

          That was kind of my point; that it's a waste if everyones time and money to save face and flex muscle; we are very used to it in europe.

          My point was that this isn't going to help joe public any, sure it'd be nice to be able to uninstall IE, but as usualy it wont achieve it's goals and runs the risks of creating yet more red tape; particularly in an area that doesn't need it.
      • Apple doesn't offer a choice, because it's

        their hardware and their software. Since MS only makes the software to run on other oem's machines, the EU Commission believes that MS shouldn't dictate which browser (such as IE) should be used to search the web.

        Do I agree with this? NO! I think this is bull, and anyone with half a brain can download and install their own choice of browser...

        Now if MS starts making their own hardware, (which the case will be with the Surface tablet), then like Apple, MS can tell the EU to stuff it..

        • Don't get me wrong...

          I think it's awesome that bootcamp is included in mac; especially for those of us users from the powerpc days.

          But the hardware tie in is a completely different anti-trust issue to the browser - my point was that a broswer is part of the OS now, and they make the OS ... Basically forcing pc users to have windows is another anti-trust issue that the EU previously botched.

          To be clear I was kind of taking their aggressive os licencing and liability of fines as read - you can't argue those points (why ms aren't) my point was in relation to how the aftermath of this investigation will benefit (or not) end users.

          Apple was just one of the examples I referred to; my point was that none of the major OS make this a normal part of install/set up. The product is the OS, the hardware is seperate; even in mac - it's why you pay for upgrades; they sell you a mac that "comes with" Mountain Lion.

          As an advocate of Open source systems - particularly those released under the GPL (though I am a massive fan of both pc-bsd and ghost bad) I too would like to see the platforms further opened up; RPM distros feeling as though they have to pay MS so they'll be able to install on W8 certified machines is wrong, not allowing you to remove a browser is wrong, including a default browser is just helpful.
  • huh to your huh...

    So you'd rather have IE crammed down your throat than choice?
    • this is bull

      not like you can uninstall it anyway, you can just hide it, and Windows Media player BTW (which Microsoft should do a better job explaining that option at least). I don't see the EU forcing this on WinRT, OSX or iPhone or even Android devices.. maybe they will.. but this is seriously getting out of control. Most users are aware of alternate browsers, these days, or knows someone who is a computer geek that can explain this stuff to them.

      Not like MS blocks other browsers too, you're free to install whatever you want anyway.
      • Untill you can remove unwanted crapware

        And make no mistake, IE is crapware, then they should live up to their contract. They signed it willingly, maybe wit the intention of not following through. To stop within 6 months, then claim to not have known for over a year they were out of compliance is pure Bull Sh!t. Microsoft knew very well they were out of compliance, and were doing it intentionally. They should be hit with a billion dollar a day fine from July, id not earlier for snubbing the EU. Or they should return the money, and withdraw their second rate crapware from the market.
        Troll Hunter J
        • Really?

          You seem very intelligent - Not...
          IE is not crapware, maybe it was, a long time ago, but not anymore.
          Are you an objective tester of the software you criticize?
          I have been testing the three most common browsers for a long time now (about 3 months on each browser; Chrome, Firefox and IE). The results are this:
          3. Firefox
          2. Chrome
          1. IE (internet explorer)
          Therefore, I believe your info (knowledge) is outdated.
    • Freedom

      No, deathjazz68, we'd rather have freedom. If you're from the EU, you wouldn't know what that is. Freedom means that a company offers products for sale in whatever form they desire, and consumers either choose to buy them or not. The notion that it is a proper function of government to take companies that have achieved so much success that virtually everyone wants their products (to which they incorrectly attach the term "monopoly") and start punishing them for not making their products the way their competitors would want them to is the same sort of typical anti-capitalist, anti-freedom hogwash that we expect from the same EU that wants us to bail out all their corrupt Socialist economies.

      Yes, the US has anti-trust laws, and they should be repealed, but there has at least been a morsel of reason applied in the Microsoft case and we don't have ridiculous things like forced browser choice being imposed on us.
      • Wow

        Yours has to take the price as the most ignorant post here ever.

        I wish you would get a chance to live in a society where every significant product and service were only offered by a single entity, free to charge whatever they wanted and never having to improve anything, because there was no competition forcing them to do so. Anybody attempting to compete would quickly be crushed by the monopolist's economic might.

        Come to think of it, I think the former Soviet Union had a similar system. The state was the monopoly. Too bad you did not grow up there.

        If you stopped posting and instead spent that time looking into the history of and reasons for anti-trust legislation, you might just learn a thing or two.
        • Of course your first sentence demolishes your credibility

          "Yours has to take the price"

          Considering you can't spell "Prize", the rest of your entry holds no validity.
          • So if somone makes a typo

            Their point is invalid? I'd say there's lots that invalid about that post, but the typo has little to do with it.
            x I'm tc
      • But Microsoft is a monopoly

        They control the market. PC Makers have it stuck up their backsides if they want to include Windows on the PC they market. If 99 other manufacturers are "including" Windows on their PCs, the 100th has to go along as it won't have a market for its H/W - are people going to buy a PC wih MS already installed for $500 or a PC with no OS for $490 (OK, maybe $460)? Yes, a techie might, but not Joe Averageuser. Microsoft has those "monopolistic contracts with the H/W manufacturers. Of course, they won't break ranks and take the chance of losing most of their business. Even IBM could not make headway with OS/2 (jointly developed with Microsoft until they found the knife in their back). Of course, part of it (and a big part) was top management stupidity and a 1969 consent decree for lesser monopolistic practices than what Microsoft practices.

        Since the US government won't deal with the situation (after all, MS is a big campaign contributor - at least Gates is reputed to be). Each government should go after a different aspect of Microsoft S/W and support. Basically force MS to "unbundle" its S/W.
  • Apple should be terrified of this

    "In 2009, Microsoft was found by European antitrust authorities to have abused its dominant operating-system market position by bundling Internet Explorer with the desktop software."

    We found out last week from Tim Cook that Apple dominates the tablet market and Apple bundles iTunes and Safari with their iPad.

    Uh oh.
    • Apple need not worry

      toddbottom3, you are naive. You think that anti-trust laws are applied the same to all companies. That is not true. If you are a politically favored company like Apple, you need not worry about anti-trust laws being applied to you. Anti-trust laws are vague, non-objective and ex post facto, precisely so that they can be applied arbitrarily to whatever companies properly greased government officials decide to apply them to.
      • So true

        Just don't let yourself become a downtrodden, pitiable victim like Microsoft. Once the politicians smell weakness, they pounce mercilessly. It's so unfair. And so sad. Everyone picks on them.

        The French are lining the Champs-Elysees with statues of Eric Schmidt and Steve Jobs, just so Google and Apple can march in the shade.
        Robert Hahn