Microsoft's relationship with the European Union has been pretty rocky over the years and earlier this summer there were reports that the two are opening up old wounds. The European Union was said to have launched an investigation after receiving complaints that Microsoft was not offering the browser ballot screen it promised to ship with all versions of Windows. The ballot screen is a pop-up designed to give customers the ability to choose which browser they want to use to surf the web. Now, the EU is preparing to lay charges against Microsoft for its mistake.
Microsoft has admitted that the browser ballot pop-up was missing from some versions of Windows. In a statement released back in July, Redmond said that this was due to a software glitch that it worked quickly to fix.
"Due to a technical error, we missed delivering the BCS (browser choice screen) software to PCs that came with the service pack 1 update to Windows 7," Microsoft said in a statement. "While we have taken immediate steps to remedy this problem, we deeply regret that this error occurred and we apologize for it."
However, despite Microsoft's best efforts to rectify the situation as soon as possible, Reuters cites EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia as saying the European Commission is preparing formal charges against the company following the summer investigation.
"The next step is to open a formal proceeding into the company's breach of an agreement. We are working on this," Almunia is quoted as saying. "It should not be a long investigation because the company itself explicitly recognized its breach of the agreement," he said.
Microsoft's offering of the browser choice screen is the result of an 2009 antitrust investigation conducted by the Euorpean Union. Europe felt that bundling Internet Explorer with Windows was anti-competitive, and argued that, because Windows is the most common operating system, it was unfair for Microsoft force all those users to use IE without first informing them of their options. Back in July, Microsoft estimated that around 90 percent of computers that should have received the BCS software received it as planned. As for the remaining 10 percent, the company said it began developing a fix one business day after the problem was discovered. The next day, July 3, the company began distributing the BCS software to Windows 7 SP1 PCs that missed out on the software the first time around. What's more, Redmond has offered to extend the period of time it's obligated to offer users this choice by more than a year.
If Microsoft is found guilty of breaching its agreement with the EU it could face fines amounting to as much as 10 percent of the company's revenues for the year. In Microsoft's case, that's well over $7 billion.