Microsoft 'to comply' with EU in browser choice antitrust probe

Microsoft 'to comply' with EU in browser choice antitrust probe

Summary: Europe's antitrust chief has said Microsoft will "comply" with regulators' demands even if the software giant is handed heavy fines for (apparently) inadvertently flouting EU law.

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TOPICS: Microsoft, Browser, Legal, EU
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Microsoft has said it will comply with European antitrust authorities, after the software giant was accused of not adhering to the promises it said it would keep as part of an earlier settlement.

browser-ballot-eu-zaw2
EU settlement led to the 'browser ballot' screen. Credit: Microsoft

According to Reuters, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia was quoted as telling reporters at an economics conference:

"In my personal talks with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer he has given me assurances that they will comply immediately regardless of the conclusion of the anti trust probe."

Almunia also described the antitrust investigation has a "very, very serious issue."

Microsoft settled with EU authorities in 2009 after it was accused of unfairly using its operating system monopoly to increase its browser share by bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. 

The "browser ballot" was a mandatory Windows update that allowed users to select their choice of Web browser -- such as Firefox, Opera, and Chrome -- to be offered alongside Microsoft's own Internet Explorer as part of the settlement deal.

But in July, the European Commission said it had received complaints that Microsoft had misled EU authorities over its promise to issue the "browser ballot" screen, which was first rolled out to Windows users in Feburary 2010.

EU authorities accused Microsoft of failing to offer the "browser ballot" screen to users since February 2011 when Microsoft rolled out Windows 7 with Service Pack 1. More than 28 million European customers who bought the latest copy of Windows with the software patch pre-loaded may not have been given the option to switch browser.

The Redmond, WA.-based firm promised to give users the choice of browser until 2014, including future operating systems, such as the forthcoming Windows 8 version.

Almunia said at the time, "Microsoft should expect sanctions" if the allegations proved true. The European Commission said it would treat the case "as a matter of priority."

Microsoft admitted, almost immediately after the Commission's allegations, that it had "fallen short in [its] responsibility" to include the browser options screen in the latest iteration of Windows 7 "due to a technical error."

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

The software giant also faces scrutiny over Windows 8 -- set for release on October 26 -- over the alleged limiting of application programming interfaces (APIs) to developers of third-party browsers. 

While Internet Explorer 10 runs in both Windows 8 'tiled' mode that run from the Start screen and 'classic' desktop modes, rival software makers claim that their browsers can only run in the behind-the-scenes desktop only mode. 

Microsoft can be fined up to 10 percent of its global annual turnover -- up to €5.7 billion euros ($7bn) -- or changes to how it conducts business in the 27 European member states if the software giant is found to have broken European antitrust laws.

Topics: Microsoft, Browser, Legal, EU

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29 comments
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  • Really important to punish horseshoe monopolists in 1982

    We are in the post-PC era. The desktop is dead. SJVN has pronounced it to be so. Steve Jobs pronounced it to be so. AKH has pronounced it to be so. MShas somewhere between 0% and 0.1% browser marketshare in the post-PC market. MS lost money lost quarter and from what we've been told, is nearly dead. De11 is quitting Microsoft and going all in with Linux. HewPack is quitting Microsoft. @cer is quitting Microsoft. The only company not quitting Microsoft is N0kia and Robert Hahn assures us that they'll be bankrupt in days, if not hours.

    So yes, everyone here can see how important it is to fine MS $7 billion, just like it was important in 1982 to track down horseshoe monopolists and punish them.

    Oh well, at least the greeks get to choose their browser 2 minutes earlier in the install process than everyone else AND they get to keep all of their social welfare entitlements, at least for a few months. How long does $7 billion last in Greece?

    (company names mangled to get past spam filter)
    toddbottom3
    • Nope

      In my opinion, you have shit for brains if you think the desktop is dead.
      ageofknowledge
      • Don't bother..

        It's best to just ignore Mr. Bottom, if he keeps getting zero replies, he'll stop trolling. It's just playground rules - stop cheering the kid eating bugs, he'll stop eating them.

        But on a serious note, I understan the laws and justification behind this, but who actually wants to go BACK to having to install things in windows that should have always been there? XP disk burning anyone?! Most end users don't care about the browser... I mean A browser is essential, or following our newly learned buzz word, FRAND. If your'ee going to do this, we have to go through an utter ordeal installing windows;

        Q1: IE, FF, CHROME, OPERA ... any others deemed necessary to be fair.

        Q2: WMP, itunes, VLC, etc

        Q3: microsoft disk burning tools, nero, roxio...

        You see where i'm going with this. As an open source user I can confirm that the default installer for nearly all desktop linux... Pc-bsd, ghost bsd, open indianna,even mac OS don't ask you what browser you want installed... On the OSS you have to choose an alternate installer for that kind of configurability, by which time you've reached tech levels at which you probably understand there's other browsers out there.

        At the end of the day I don't like IE, I actuay think it got worse when they incorperated the unified search made famous by chrome, but I also think an OS should come with a browser, and why can't MS make one bundled?

        The only anti trust I see is the dact you can't uninstall it if you don't like it and you have to have it if you want to use several areas of their site, though this has improved.. Not see "use internet explorer fool" in a while.

        Why don't the EU just finally stop peeing in the wind and actually get around to seperating OEM's and OS suppliers; it's not difficult when you go to PC world, you ser your lenovo laptop cost price, with windows price , and whatever other OS may spring up price etc... Sure most people will use windows anyway, but it's fair right? And maybe another OS may spring up?

        Final thought... If we're not getting any browsr choice, why can't I install IE on any other OS, and why do they need to advertise it all the time?
        MarknWill
      • Don't bother..

        It's best to just ignore Mr. Bottom, if he keeps getting zero replies, he'll stop trolling. It's just playground rules - stop cheering the kid eating bugs, he'll stop eating them.

        But on a serious note, I understan the laws and justification behind this, but who actually wants to go BACK to having to install things in windows that should have always been there? XP disk burning anyone?! Most end users don't care about the browser... I mean A browser is essential, or following our newly learned buzz word, FRAND. If your'ee going to do this, we have to go through an utter ordeal installing windows;

        Q1: IE, FF, CHROME, OPERA ... any others deemed necessary to be fair.

        Q2: WMP, itunes, VLC, etc

        Q3: microsoft disk burning tools, nero, roxio...

        You see where i'm going with this. As an open source user I can confirm that the default installer for nearly all desktop linux... Pc-bsd, ghost bsd, open indianna,even mac OS don't ask you what browser you want installed... On the OSS you have to choose an alternate installer for that kind of configurability, by which time you've reached tech levels at which you probably understand there's other browsers out there.

        At the end of the day I don't like IE, I actuay think it got worse when they incorperated the unified search made famous by chrome, but I also think an OS should come with a browser, and why can't MS make one bundled?

        The only anti trust I see is the dact you can't uninstall it if you don't like it and you have to have it if you want to use several areas of their site, though this has improved.. Not see "use internet explorer fool" in a while.

        Why don't the EU just finally stop peeing in the wind and actually get around to seperating OEM's and OS suppliers; it's not difficult when you go to PC world, you ser your lenovo laptop cost price, with windows price , and whatever other OS may spring up price etc... Sure most people will use windows anyway, but it's fair right? And maybe another OS may spring up?

        Final thought... If we're not getting any browsr choice, why can't I install IE on any other OS, and why do they need to advertise it all the time?
        MarknWill
    • Yep desktop is really dead, isn't it...

      I mean, sales are flat at only 400 million sales a year which is still, what, more than all tablet and phone sales combined several times over.

      Nice fail.
      ItsBeenALongDay
      • Nope

        Over 474 Android devices sold a year, over 1.3 million every day. Alone Android devices has surpassed PC's.

        Combine Android + iOS and you have many times bigger market than what Microsoft has.

        Mac's are sold now 1:20 to PC's. At best it was 1:65. At this rate, Macs are tie with PC sales at 2014. If Mac+iPhone+iPad is combined, Apple is tie with Microsoft this year.

        Microsoft has huge panic. They have sinking ship and they need to direct it to shore or shallow waters so they can repair it. Thats why MS has needed to get Nokia to their control and get Windows Phone a such campaign that they can at least hold Windows brand lips of the people and they get their fans to defend Microsoft at all cost against Android and Apple brands.

        There is a war, Microsoft is losing it and first time after 25 years, there is a change that we would actually get compatible IT systems where every company and person has choice to make from wide range of products and get IT technology free and rapidly develop with Open Source.

        In science world, every study and test needs to be shared among others. If others can not repeat the process and confirm it, it isn't correct and it doesn't help science development. If others can repeat it and use it and even then find it doesn't apply, it has helped science by telling it didn't work.

        In IT world, closed source companies are totally against information sharing, they slow down (even stop) innovations with patents and by controlling markets.

        At 1970's and 1980's, someone could have topped Microsoft from garage, but today.... Not possible because you can not even enter to markets if you don't have tens of millions just for marketing, no less for law side and so on.

        Google and Apple has entered to market with Open Source. They both use 100% Open Source operating systems and system libraries and programs. Apple just close their key platforms in OS X and iOS for technology what makes them "Apple". Google, gives everything and that is secret why Android is so successful because everyone can improve it and make it look and work as they want, just by promising compatibility for Android itself.
        If Google would closed Android and sold it for others and itself ruled how Android is developed, it would never had success to spread. It would have been like.... Microsoft Kin.
        Fri13
  • The EU Commission's hypocrisy

    Microsoft makes the OS, they should have the right to set a default browser and not have to offer a browser ballot. Do you see Apple offering a browser ballot? Why isn't the Commission notifying Apple about this?

    By the looks of it, the EU Commission is trying to bring down Microsoft in Europe. Earlier this year, Microsoft products (including Windows 7) were banned and not allowed to be sold anymore in the German market. Now this browser issue comes up. What next? Are they going to make Microsoft offer a Word Processing ballot too so we can chose whether we want to have Microsoft Office or not?
    Jabe124
    • Re: The EU Commission's hypocrisy

      Microsoft has a near-monopoly position on the desktop, whereas Apple doesn't have a monopoly on anything except rounded corners.
      ldo17
      • If the user is not smart enough to go on IE and download Google Chrome

        then they deserve to use IE.
        Jabe124
        • I don't like Spyware

          I don't willingly use spyware on my computer.
          illegaloperation
          • Or download IE 9 or Firefox

            IE 9 and Firefox are almost (or they actually are) on par with Google Chrome in certain web standards.
            Jabe124
      • Apple's rounded corners

        Apple has a patent on those rounded corners, forcing all other device makers to go square, ergo the new MS logo.
        Art Valla
      • How about tablet and music player monopolies?

        Apple has a monopoly on tablets, music players, and music purchases. Their system such as iTunes are proprietary and anti-competitive. Try installing FireFox on your ipad, you can't. Where is the browser ballet on ipad?

        This is all BS and hypocrisy. Failed socialist states living in the last century.
        Rann Xeroxx
    • Safari == Webkit

      For what it's worth, Safari is basically Webkit which is an open-source project that many other large companies, like Google, contribute to (Chrome is also based on Webkit) to implement W3C standards.

      IE is closed source and in the past has been rather poor at implementing web standards and security which ultimately has hurt consumers.

      If Apple bundled a closed-source proprietary browser which implemented Apple's own views on what web standards should be, I could see the EU antitrust authorities giving Apple a closer look. But, that's not the case.
      edelbrp
    • It's not fair!

      You're right. Why should Coke have to put a Pepsi in every six pack and visa versa. It's stupid.
      ageofknowledge
  • To have a monopoly and get into trouble...

    ...you have to USE the monopoly position to stifle competition. Note that this specifically does not include protecting your legally registered intellectual property rights!
    Tony Burzio
  • Ancient History

    I guess that the EU knows that Microsoft still has money left in their accounts that can be siphoned off with fines. Browsers are yesterday's news -- everybody above the age of 5 knows about Chrome, FoxFire, et. al. and how they are in many ways better than IE. All this junk about a page to choose is much ado about nothing. Now it is just the ego of some third rate public servant whose instructions were not followed to the letter!

    On the other hand, Apple is well on its way to OWN the smartphone and tablet marketplaces -- the PC sales are waning. I probably shouldn't say anything -- an American company, biggest on the planet, lots of cash, technically successful -- and Europe desperate for money to keep the entitlement society going -- you do the math.
    TomMariner
    • Oh really?

      Did you know that IE has hardware acceleration before Chrome?
      illegaloperation
    • Eh?

      [quote]Now it is just the ego of some third rate public servant whose instructions were not followed to the letter![/quote]

      You could just as easily argue that "now it is just" the incompetence "of some third rate" MS coders who are incapable of coding to a specification. Actually, MS seem to be claiming that they can't even remember the specification ("Don't forget the browser ballot!"), even when billions of dollars are on the line.

      [quote]I probably shouldn't say anything -- an American company, biggest on the planet[/quote]

      No, you probably shouldn't. According to CNNMoney, which ranks companies by revenue, Apple was the 111th biggest company on the planet for FY 2011, while WalMart was the biggest. By profits, Apple was 20th while Nestle of Switzerland was first.

      Apple is currently the world's largest company by market capitalization, but it's constantly swapping places with Exxon-Mobil and PetroChina (http://tinyurl.com/8rgh6kr).

      As for Apple's status as an "American company" (a US one?) the Forbes Country Scorecard (http://tinyurl.com/6e22ou) notes that five year investments in the France, Italy, the UK, Japan and the US
      ending in 2011 would have produced returns of between 22.2% and 11.1% with Japan second last and the US coming last. Forbes observes: "So much for making fun of 'old Europe.' The U.S. is stuck in the basement here." (Of course, this doesn't include results from FY2012, but I don't have that data.)

      [quote]...an American company, biggest on the planet, lots of cash, technically successful -- and Europe desperate for money to keep the entitlement society going -- you do the math.[/quote]

      What "math"? I imagine you're suggesting that the EU will file anti-monopoly charges against Apple, and then sit around waiting for Apple to violate the settlement, the way Microsoft has done. Even if we accept this absurd scenario, what makes you think Apple would be so clueless that they would "forget" to implement one of the primary conditions of this hypothetical settlement?

      Finally, why would the EU take all this trouble to possibly raise a mere $7bn when their GDP is about $17,578 bn? (The GDP of the USA is about $15,094 bn)

      Finally, the EU may be an "entitlement society," if that means citizens feel "entitled" to live, even when they have the bad luck (or incompetence) to need medical help, food or shelter from the potentially fatal weather.

      Altruism seems to be unfashionable in the US, despite the high levels of Christian belief. Since I can't expect you to feel any empathy for others, at least consider the selfish benefits of living in "entitlement societies": fewer beggars, lower crime rates, much lower murder rates, and far less taxes wasted on keeping 0.73% of society in gaol, compared with the 0.1% that's typical in the EU.
      StandardPerson
  • So silly, what a waste

    Your phone comes with a browser. Your tablet. Your TV. And off course your computer. Browsers are just so trivial today. This whole EU affair about browser competition is so 1990s. It only benefits the bureaucrats and the lawyers. I think Microsoft should not give in. Windows comes with a user interface. A file browser. Security features. And a web browser. It all works well together. Take it one leave it. Or download something else as you please. Or buy a Mac. Or try linux (have fun with that).
    Rob30000