Browser clash – European Commission fines Microsoft €561m

6 Mar 2013

The European Commission has imposed a €561m fine on Microsoft for failing to make it easier for Windows users to choose their preferred browser.

The Commission ruled that Microsoft failed to roll out the browser choice screen with its Windows 7 Service Pack 1 from May 2011 until July 2012.

Some 15m Windows users in the EU therefore did not see the choice screen during this period.

Microsoft has acknowledged that the choice screen was not displayed during that time.

Microsoft has already paid more than €1.68bn in fines to the European Commission over the issue.

“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,” Commission vice-president in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said.

“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.”

In 2009, the European Commission made Microsoft agree to legally binding commitments to make available for five years (until 2014) in the European Economic Area a “choice screen” enabling users of the Windows operating system to choose in an informed and unbiased manner which web browsers they wanted to install in addition to, or instead of, Microsoft’s web browser.

The choice screen was implemented in March 2010 and by November that year 84m browsers were downloaded successfully through it.

However, in July 2012 it emerged that the choice screen had been disabled.

Between February 2011 and July 2012, millions of Windows users in the EU may not have seen the choice screen.

“This is the first time that the Commission has had to fine a company for non-compliance with a commitments decision. In the calculation of the fine the Commission took into account the gravity and duration of the infringement, the need to ensure a deterrent effect of the fine and, as a mitigating circumstance, the fact that Microsoft has co-operated with the Commission and provided information which helped the Commission to investigate the matter efficiently,” the Commission said.

EU Parliament image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years