Was Microsoft's mistake only discovered because the company's competitors tipped off the EU?
The European Union yesterday imposed a €561 million fine on Microsoft for failing to offer 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. Microsoft said last summer that that around 90 percent of computers received the BCS software as planned while 10 percent did not. But how did the EU find out about the blunder? According to latest reports, Google and Opera may have ratted Microsoft out.
The Verge cites a Financial Times report that says the tip-off came from Microsoft's competitors. The Financial Times cites anonymous sources in reporting Google and Opera were the ones that reported Microsoft for not abiding by the terms set following the European Commission's antitrust investigation into Microsoft's practices in the browser space. Additionally, these anonymous sources said that both companies helped the EU throughout the course of the investigation.
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 users to use IE without first informing them of their options. Opera was one of the original complainants so it makes sense that the company would be vocal if Microsoft wasn't holding up its end of the bargain. What's more, both Google and Opera have something to gain from every user seeing the browser ballot screen.
Microsoft said yesterday that it had no plans to appeal the fine and it was taking full responsibility for the mistake:
"We take full responsibility for the technical error that caused this problem and have apologized for it," Microsoft said in a statement released today. "We provided the Commission with a complete and candid assessment of the situation, and we have taken steps to strengthen our software development and other processes to help avoid this mistake – or anything similar – in the future."