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Microsoft fined €561 million in EU anti-trust browser case

Microsoft fined €561 million in EU anti-trust browser case

Thu 07 Mar 2013 9:00am GMT / 4:00am EST / 1:00am PST
HardwareOnline

Technical error caused non-compliance with browser choice measures

Microsoft has been fined €561 million by the European Commission for failing to offer Windows users a choice of web browser.

The Commission made the implementation of a Windows browser choice screen legally binding in 2009. The measure was due to last until 2014, but the Commission found that Microsoft did not include the screen with its Windows 7 Service Pack 1 from May 2011 until July 2012.

Ultimately, 15 million Windows users were not given a clear choice between Microsoft's Internet Explorer and competitors like Chrome, Firefox and Opera. The fine if equivalent to around €37.40 for every user affected - significantly lower than the €5.9 billion worst-case scenario.

"In 2009, we closed our investigation about a suspected abuse of dominant position by Microsoft due to the tying of Internet Explorer to Windows by accepting commitments offered by the company," said Joaquín Almunia, vice president of the Commission, in a statement.

"Legally binding commitments reached in antitrust decisions play a very important role in our enforcement policy because they allow for rapid solutions to competition problems. Of course, such decisions require strict compliance. A failure to comply is a very serious infringement that must be sanctioned accordingly."

Microsoft has accepted "full responsibility" for what it claims was a technical error. Indeed, Microsoft noticed its own mistake and reported the matter to the Commission voluntarily.

"It was a single line in the code that triggered the browser choice program," a source close to Microsoft told The Guardian. "It had a list of versions of Windows to test against: if the version was found in that list, the program would run. They didn't include Service Pack 1, which is effectively a different version of Windows, in that list. And so the program didn't run."

15 Comments

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,136 914 0.8
Yeah, I think this is unfair and out of date.

IE has been in decline for years, no longer commanding the market share it used to. Add to that the new dominant forces in browsers, Google and Apple who have their software installed in every mobile device shipping with their OS.

Ironically, IE could become one of the last surviving proprietary browsers as the market is pushed towards WebKit. Opera who funnily enough are one of Microsoft's main antagonists in this ongoing case are especially feeling the affects of both their battle against good inbuilt mobile browsers and the market's movement towards WebKit.

Posted:A year ago

#1
I'd love to know how they come up with the figure for the fine.

Posted:A year ago

#2

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

517 734 1.4
I imagine it's to do with how much room there is in the politicians' back pockets.

Posted:A year ago

#3

Khash Firestorm
Senior Programmer

38 37 1.0
Yes, I think it is simply unfair to kick MS for waht... IE ? I personally dont know anyone who uses it. But I know how annoying is that you have no choices on apple platforms. Even if you just develop for it, you need to have Mac. And it have so many other limitations where every single one is far bigger than this "missing screen" in windows.
Deep-pocket is the only thing what made here decisions. It's not to protect anyone nor any fair play markets.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Richard Westmoreland
Game Desginer

138 89 0.6
EU lining their pockets with foreign money. This is odd though, especially when Microsoft's competitors are guilty of much, much worse. Users always had a choice. If you don't want IE you use IE to download Firefox or Chrome.

Posted:A year ago

#5

gi biz
;,pgc.eu

341 51 0.1
"The fine if equivalent to around €37.40 for every user affected"
Not too bad given that this is more or less the price of a pre-installed Windows and 1/5 of a stand alone license. As long as there is gullible people that gives money to MS, they will have enough pocket change to pay those fines they keep on receiving every now and then.

Posted:A year ago

#6

Tom Keresztes
Programmer

632 239 0.4
I did not even realize that the selection screen is missing, as that program is usually the first I delete after install.

Posted:A year ago

#7

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 941 0.7
I dislike Microsoft Internet Exporer... I dont like it period.... but I find this lawsuit as very unfare. As windows platforms does offer me a choice in web browsers. I always use Google chrome or firefox. I find it ok that Internet explorer comes shipped with windows and I think its great that I dont have to use it. This lawsuit is lame, and its just people looking for money. I hope Microsoft comes out of this clean.

I find apples controlled enviroment much worse. i have less choices there.

Posted:A year ago

#8

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

799 996 1.2
I think this is outrageous tbh. Why would anyone even /think/ that one company should promote another company's direct rival products?

Not only is this anti-commercial, it's against everything that capitalist culture stands for. If google want everyone to use chrome, they should start making their own pc's and operating systems and capture their own market share and make it happen. (I thought they were even trying to do just that.)

It's just not Microsoft's problem. Nor mine or anyone elses but google (or whoever)

ftr, I use firefox. It's easy to download and works well, whereas IE is crap imo. Do I think that MS should put firefox installed for me? No, I don't want any 3rd party software put on by default. None at all, even the pieces I use.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 8th March 2013 8:34am

Posted:A year ago

#9

gi biz
;,pgc.eu

341 51 0.1
@Rick: many users (the majority?) have serious issues in doing that. While it's true that Apple gives you way less freedom, Mac users usually know how to navigate the internet and use the basic things. I've fixed the laptop of a couple of friends in the past (people in their 20-30s) who found installing Opera a hard task, on the limit of being hackish. Apple's clever strategy is that they're not a PC. As lame as it can sound, it puts them on a different level that kinds of justify their being so closed (not that I approve).

@Paul: something important you forgot is that they already lost a similar case in the past. That's re-iteration. They could just stop putting Explorer there by default and instead let the user chose from the beginning.

Posted:A year ago

#10

Robin Clarke
Producer

297 681 2.3
The point of antitrust remedies is to stop companies distorting the market. They shouldn't be allowed to try to start distorting the market again (even 'accidentally') after the remedy has started to have an effect.

Microsoft were taken to task over bundling IE because their market position was PREVENTING other browsers from competing on merit. IE has consistently been worse than the alternatives available but at its peak commanded over 90% of the market. (The root of the problem was that by bundling IE, OEMs were disincentivised from offering any other option. Remember this started 10-15 years ago when the concept of sourcing and downloading an alternative web browser was well beyond most mainstream users.)

Would Google have sunk the resources it has into developing and marketing Chrome in recent years if non-technical Windows users were still being railroaded to using IE?

To those outraged at this 'interference' with good honest capitalism: Presumably you'd also be happy to pay a premium for printer cartridges that can stop working even if they still contain ink, because they contain a chip with a hard-coded expiry date? Assuming that laissez faire capitalism results in the best of all possible worlds is extraordinarily naive. And nobody is even saying MS should be forced to bundle other people's software.

Posted:A year ago

#11

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,136 914 0.8
Presumably you'd also be happy to pay a premium for printer cartridges that can stop working even if they still contain ink, because they contain a chip with a hard-coded expiry date?
Maybe not but I'm quite happy to have the printer manufacturer bundle their ink with the printer. If I want to get more ink then I have a choice which brand or supplier I use to get a compatible cartridge.

I don't think in the modern day its a serious issue having a browser pre-installed in a computer. I would also go as far to say, who doesn't expect Microsoft or Apple or Google to provide a browser when you buy into their OS.

Even if this battle against Microsoft seemed to make any sense 10 or so years ago, *personally* I don't think it does anymore. And especially the extortionate fine.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 8th March 2013 4:58pm

Posted:A year ago

#12

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

799 996 1.2
"Assuming that laissez faire capitalism results in the best of all possible worlds is extraordinarily naive"

Assuming that this is what I meant is even moreso. If all printer manufacturers supply product I don't want, I stop buying them and their competitor rises to the top. No competition comes in to replace? Bummer, guess I need to start writing letters by hand again. Think that will happen?

Posted:A year ago

#13

Andrew Lee Pearson
Studying Game Designer

24 1 0.0
Microsoft has been fined €561 million by the European Commission for failing to offer Windows users a choice of web browser.
Are we not allowed to press the uninstall button and install another browser? No we have the choice to do that, so why are the EU fining for non compliance.

It actually bugs the he'll out me when IE uninstalls itself and says what browser would you like to use? IE of course, I would have uninstalled myself if I didn't want it.

Posted:A year ago

#14

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