Microsoft faces EU fine over browser choice 'error'

Microsoft faces EU fine over browser choice 'error'

Summary: Despite labeling the incident as a "technical error," Microsoft is braced for another hefty fine from the EU after it failed to include the browser choice software in Windows.

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Europe's antitrust chief has sent the strongest signal yet that Microsoft faces heavy financial penalties after the software giant failed to include a "browser choice" screen for European users in the latest version of Windows 7.

In an interview with the AFP news agency, European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said that fault had been admitted and said the European Commission needed to "react," suggesting heavy fines were on the way.

"The fault is there, it has been there for more than a year and it is clear that we need to react," he said, adding: "It is not only the distortion of competition during this period which concerns us; it is very serious, from my point of view, that the remedies imposed on Microsoft have not been applied."

He added that it would be easier for European authorities to progress in its investigation "if a company which has broken competition rules recognises the fact."

Europe can impose fines of up to 10 percent of a company's global annual turnover. For Microsoft, it could be up to $7.37 billion (€5.7bn) based on 2012 figures.

On July 17, the European Commission said it would open an antitrust investigation into the software giant after the executive body had received complaints that Microsoft was not carrying out its obligations to provide users' with a choice of browser. 

Microsoft swiftly apologized for failing to include the browser choice update in Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 because a "technical error" missed out the update in February 2011 in store shelf copies of the operating system. 

An estimated 28 million users may not have been given the option to choose their choice of browser after the browser choice update was omitted.

The software giant received a record $1.2 billion (€899 million) fine in 2008 after Microsoft refused to provide crucial compatibility information to rival developers needed to make applications work with the operating system.

"While we believed when we filed our most recent compliance report in December 2011 that we were distributing the [browser ballot] software to all relevant PCs as required, we learned recently that we've missed serving the [browser ballot] software to the roughly 28 million PCs running Windows 7 SP1," the company said.

Microsoft pre-emptively included the browser choice update in Windows 8, set for an October 25 launch, in a bid to appease European authorities, despite the operating system has yet to be released. 

Topics: Microsoft, Browser, Legal, Privacy, EU

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  • I don't get it

    Why Windows? iOS comes with Safari, Android comes with its own browser... why Windows? because everybody hates Microsoft? blah! even you can check the stats where Chrome is currently the most used browser... :/
    disparates
    • iOS

      You'd have to do a lot more than simply have a ballot, you'd have to force them to enable other browsers. As is, they enable skins on top of their browser engine. They don't even allow the browsers to access everything that Safari is able to.
      Michael Alan Goff
      • Who?

        Who is "they"? Microsoft? Others?
        Gisabun
        • Huh?

          Microsoft makes iOS?

          He mentioned putting a ballot on iOS. That wouldn't matter, iOS actually limits the rendering engine to what's on the system already.
          Michael Alan Goff
          • It's the same as RT

            RT limits optimization code same as IOS, but those are both just phone/tablet OSs.
            I think regarding the desktop browser choice, Microsoft embeds IE through everything so IE exploits can be used to attack through shared code even if you are not using IE, and the monopoly deals MS has with various manufacturers where it is has been the default OS included with PCs for a while. Still, I wouldn't be against every desktop OS manufacturer required to make alternative choices clear.
            ossoup
          • I don't think it's right for RT to stop competition either

            Let's be clear on this, though. According to web use statistics, the iPad is king. According to everyone who doesn't single out OS X for their use of Safari, it is because OS X has very low market share. Windows RT has -no- marketshare, and so according to the rules that they made up... we shouldn't worry about RT's lack of choice yet.

            I hope they eventually change that, though.
            Michael Alan Goff
    • Becasue Apple sells a complete product with hardware and software via their

      own outlets while Microsoft sells to people to put on other hardware they own and are supposedly selling an OS with a separate browser.
      Deadly Ernest
      • Errr....

        Which means what? Apple doesn't require a ballot but Microsoft does?
        Gisabun
        • Microsoft was the one that suggested the

          Browser ballot. So what if the failed to implement their own idea, it was cheaper to promise, and not follow through, than to pay that $2 billion fine.
          Troll Hunter J
    • Antitrust is . . . an odd, but needed concept.

      Antitrust is an odd, but needed concept.

      Free market economics, while generally a good idea, isn't perfect. One of the flaws is that it's entirely possible for a single business to take over and own an entire market, making competition practically impossible.

      Competition is, however, something to be desired, as it tends to foster more innovation and fairer prices than a monopoly.

      So, in order to keep competition and prevent monopolistic power, most nations have elected to have laws against monopolies or monopolistic power.

      Microsoft just happened to trip the EC's antitrust law. Internet Explorer practically killed the browser market at one time.

      Today, I'd say it's not quite the same, as Chrome and Firefox have really carved into IE's share. But, once they hit the antitrust laws, it generally takes a long time to get back to not being considered a monopoly anymore.
      CobraA1
      • What?

        “But, once they hit the antitrust laws, it generally takes a long time to get back to not being considered a monopoly anymore.”
        RickLively
      • re:Antitrust is . . . an odd, but needed concept.

        BS. This is a silly stupid witch hunt where laws are not applied equally. IE killed the browser market? Are you on drugs? How is it that Chrome, Opera, and the plethora of other browsers have survived if IE almost killed the market? That is fraken so asininely stupid I am surprised you have the intelligence to use a computer. IE beat Netscape only because when AOL bought Netscape, they put browser production on the back burner for what, 5 years? IE kept moving forward while thre wasn't a version 4 for 5 years. Of course IE became the dominant browser. If MS was guilty of anti-trust, Chrome and FF would be able 0 o carve into squat because they wouldn't have a chance to get out there to get customers...Economics 101 folks. I think you and these morons in the EU anti-trust department really need to go back and learn what anti-trust means. Monopoly mean you have a single product or company that has `100% of the market share. Just because your product is better and it is beating the crap out of the competition doesn't mean monopoly. I am just amazed at people lack of ability to think. No wonder we are going hell in a hand basket...maybe we deserve it.
        owner@...
        • Apparently you're not familiar with history . . .

          "IE killed the browser market? "

          Between the time Netscape lost the browser wars and Firefox became popular, yes.

          "How is it that Chrome, Opera, and the plethora of other browsers have survived if IE almost killed the market?"

          You can thank Firefox for eventually breaking IE's stranglehold.

          Out of touch with history a bit?

          "IE beat Netscape only because when AOL bought Netscape, they put browser production on the back burner for what, 5 years?"

          Perhaps. Although it was also because Microsoft was engaged in some pretty nasty tactics with OEMs, as well as building IE into the OS, which to this day I think is a move I think made the OS worse rather than better. But it did help them gain monopoly like power over the browser market at the time.

          "If MS was guilty of anti-trust, Chrome and FF would be able 0 o carve into squat because they wouldn't have a chance to get out there to get customers..."

          For a while, they didn't. It was certainly the case that they had troubles competing for a time.

          "Monopoly mean you have a single product or company that has `100% of the market share."

          For the purpose of most antitrust laws, getting close counts. Nearly 100% might as well be 100%.

          And I believe in the USA it's monopoly-like power, not an actual monopoly, that will bring into effect our antitrust laws. Dunno how the European laws are set up.

          "Just because your product is better and it is beating the crap out of the competition doesn't mean monopoly."

          Frankly, IE6 was junk. I know, I developed for it. IE and Netscape were on par IMO when Netscape lost the browser wars. Netscape lost due to integration of IE into the OS. They didn't know how to compete with that at the time.

          It wasn't until Firefox became an unquestionably better browser in all aspects of the word that they could even get a chink into IE's armor.

          "I am just amazed at people lack of ability to think."

          Gooder grammar have we, eh? You're not thinking any more than anybody else.
          CobraA1
          • um...no

            It had nothing to do any supposed bad tactics or "integrating the browser". There was never a time where you couldn't download firefox, netscape or whatever and install it and make it the default browser. You could do it back then and you can do it today. Even my wife can do it and she is still having problems with VCR's. It doesn't take a genius or a lot of knowledge to replace the default browser.

            The only real "integration" was that IE and Windows explorer use the same code base...one browses your system while the other browses the net. The underlying mechanics are the same. It makes sense to merge the two...for someone who claims to be a developer, you don't seem to have a big understanding of application design.

            Netscape lost because there was no new development for over 5 years. IE and Netscape were even at 3.0...which is when AOL bought Netscape. They didn't know how to compete? LOL...they weren't competing, that was the problem. Hell, even AOL...the folks that OWN Netscape still use IE. It was a simple matter of there were no improvements with Netscape for 5 years, while IE kept moving forward.

            I have been a web developer for almost 15 years. MS never had a monopolistic hold on the browser market. That was one of the biggest loads of BS ever fostered on people. Again, just because your browser is better doesn't make one a monopolist. Netscape dropped the ball on it's own foot and lost because their new owner failed to develop new features for 5 years. AOL bought Netscape for their server products, not their browser. If there was a monopoly, FF would have never had the opportunity to improve because it would have never even made it to the market int he first place. I think you need to look at what really happened and get a clue about monopolies and anti-trust, instead of the BS that was fed to you.

            Jeez...aren't you just a good little moron, commenting on typos...
            owner@...
          • History who needs it

            As a developer of 15 years who "knows" Netscape failed becasue it was not developed for 5 years you clearly did not notice all the code that MS provided which looked to break Netscape or all the propitiatory hooks MS put into Explorer which meant big corporate sites only worked on Explorer. Ok so it was all at the start of your career but it certainly happened.

            You also failed to notice that it was Explorer which stagnated when they had a monopoly for nearly 5 years and that its only since the anti trust boys started taking an action the market has began to open up again.

            Now we are in a position where MS has to comply with standards and major corporate sites do provide systems that work across browsers.
            martin23
          • thoughts

            "It had nothing to do any supposed bad tactics or 'integrating the browser'. "

            Everything else being equal, people tend to use the default browser. And the DOJ ruled that yes, Microsoft was involved in some bad tactics. None of this is really arguable. You're gonna undo the last 20 years of recorded history? Really?

            You can still look up many of the court documents to this day. I suggest doing so.

            "There was never a time where you couldn't download firefox, netscape or whatever and install it and make it the default browser."

            Except that "default browser" honestly means very little. You couldn't really escape IE when Microsoft decided to integrate it into the OS, default or not.

            "The only real 'integration' was that IE and Windows explorer use the same code base.."

            Windows Explorer basically IS the OS. It's nearly impossible to have Windows without it. Integrating IE with Windows Explorer integrates IE with Windows.

            "they weren't competing, that was the problem."

            Hard to compete with a business that pulls tactics that, at the time, were unprecedented and far beyond anything you're capable of.

            Integrating into the OS is something no other browser can do, and yes it gave (and still gives) IE an advantage that other browsers cannot take advantage of.

            "It was a simple matter of there were no improvements with Netscape for 5 years, while IE kept moving forward."

            Netscape 1 to 3: 1994 or so to 1997

            Netscape 3 saw competition from IE 3.

            Netscape 4: 1997

            Competition from IE was increasing. IE 5 became the market leader. Netscape bought by AOL. Microsoft very dominant in several markets. DOJ case starts.

            Netscape 6: 2000

            Mozilla formed. First browser of Netscape to flop.
            Height of DOJ case: Judge Jackson releases his findings of fact.

            Netscape 7: 2002

            AOL shuts down Netscape as a division. Mozilla continues the Netscape name.

            Netscape Navigator 8/9: 2007

            This is really the only five year gap. And it's AFTER the DOJ vs Microsoft trial starts.

            Netscape ended support for Navigator in 2008.

            "I have been a web developer for almost 15 years."

            I've been writing software, including some web stuff, for 20.

            "MS never had a monopolistic hold on the browser market."

            Internet Explorer 6 had 82.79% of market share in February 2005, according to marketshare.hitslink.com. Close enough for me.

            "If there was a monopoly, FF would have never had the opportunity to improve because it would have never even made it to the market int he first place."

            Firefox made it into the market because it was written by various people in their free time. You can't stop the "opportunity to improve" a browser that is independent of a business, even with monopoly like power.

            "I think you need to look at what really happened and get a clue about monopolies and anti-trust, instead of the BS that was fed to you."

            I did, that's why your claim that they "failed to develop new features for 5 years" is so unbelievable.

            "Jeez...aren't you just a good little moron, commenting on typos..."

            You're a cute little moron too =).
            CobraA1
        • Wow

          IE did almost kill the market. Don't believe me? Ask Netscape. The only reason AOL bought Netscape is because Microsoft had beaten it previously. And once Netscape fell, just how long did Microsoft ignore IE? That's right... until Firefox and Mozilla (and later Chrome) began gaining market share. Then Microsoft began dusting off the code of IE and updating it (and making it more compliant to W3C standards).

          IE became the the dominant browser because it was included with Windows; actually woven into the OS (which no browser should EVER be). Microsoft was guilty of antitrust; a quick Google of "microsoft guilty being monopoly" will show you that it was found guilty in a court of law here in the US circa 1999-2000. It was bound to happen due to OEM agreements first laid out by Bill Gates when computers came with command line interfaces only, allowing only MS-DOS and not PC-DOS, DR-DOS, CP/M or any other OS. These agreements later turned out to haunt the OEMs when they tried to include any other software other than MS-DOS and/or Windows; that agreement still haunts them today.

          owner, if you are as young as you look in your photo, you're too young to have experienced any of this. You need to read up on your computer history.
          benched42
          • no...

            Netscape and IE were pretty much equals at version 3 of both browsers. At that point, you could still download Netscape and install it and make it your default browser and never see IE again. I had been doing that ever since Netscape 1.0. When AOL bought Netscape, they bought it for the server products, not the browser. Notice that they never implemented Netscape into their own software. IE went through 2 or 3 versions before there was a new version on Netscape. Netscape lost because they stopped developing the browser, not because of any bad tactics by MS. They couldn't compete because they stopped competing. I don;t need to read up on it. I was there and was part of that history. Just because one is found guilty doesn't always mean one is...ask all those folks on death row who were found guilty of crimes that it turned out, they didn't commit. That was a witch hunt headed by the Department of justice when Sun and AOL whined to them when they screwed themselves and lost. The arguments presented inthe trial were some of the lamest arguments in the world and the judge int he case even admitted to being biased agaisnt MS. It was a total kangaroo court. MS never stood a chance of getting a fair trial and they never did. That case was decided before it started. I wouldn't be surprised to see that it was funded by Sun and AOL.
            owner@...
          • You're a little ridiculous

            Microsoft killed Netscape when Netscape was charging money for it's software and Microsoft gave theirs away for free. Netscape at one point was selling it's furniture to pay the rent. Netscape was clearly the better browser at the time. This was the beginning of Microsoft's systematic destruction of Netscape. You're clearly nothing but a troll.
            George Sisco
        • Microsoft & EU Anti Trust

          I think it is you who is the moron. Microsoft IE has more holes in it than a swiss cheese and take forever to admit they have problems. They have done little to improve their OS for some time. All they sell is marketing hype and poorly constructed code, mthen use the end user to highlight the inherrent problems. The sooner hardware moves to parallel processing and dumps disguised serial batch processing the better.
          bobmattfran