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MSFT Faces EU Probe Over Browser Ballot Compliance

By - Source: ZDNet | B 27 comments

Microsoft once again finds itself under the scrutiny of the European Union.

Microsoft's relationship with the European Union has been pretty rocky over the years. Now it seems the two are opening up old wounds. Apparently, the European Union has 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.

Microsoft has since admitted that the browser ballot pop-up was missing from some versions of Windows. In a statement, 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 apologise for it."

Microsoft estimates 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.

"Since we have fallen short in our responsibility to display the BCS, we have offered to extend the time during which we are obliged to do so by an additional 15 months," the company said. "We understand that the Commission will review this matter and determine whether this is an appropriate step for Microsoft to take. We understand that the Commission may decide to impose other sanctions."

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.

If Microsoft is found to be in violation of EU antitrust laws, the company could face heavy fines. ZDNet cites EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia as saying the commission takes compliance with its decisions very seriously.

"And I trusted the company's reports were accurate," he's quoted as saying. "But it seems that was not the case, so we have immediately taken action." 

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Top Comments
  • 24 Hide
    ejb222 , July 17, 2012 7:25 PM
    So when are we going to see these on iPads, Apple computers, Android OS etc?
  • 12 Hide
    sandmanwn , July 17, 2012 7:36 PM
    Look out Greece, your bailout money is on the way. The probe isn't completed yet, but don't you worry, we'll get you squared away in no time.
  • 11 Hide
    djscribbles , July 17, 2012 8:42 PM
    Wait a second... they left NetScape off the list! A travesty has been committed, we must form a committee!
Other Comments
    Display all 27 comments.
  • -6 Hide
    chicofehr , July 17, 2012 7:22 PM
    I wish the EU would just go away. Hasn't done anything good at all as far as I know except send the whole of Europe into a perpetual recession. I guess they have to fine the rich companies to pay their coffers as their states are all broke :p 
  • 24 Hide
    ejb222 , July 17, 2012 7:25 PM
    So when are we going to see these on iPads, Apple computers, Android OS etc?
  • 12 Hide
    sandmanwn , July 17, 2012 7:36 PM
    Look out Greece, your bailout money is on the way. The probe isn't completed yet, but don't you worry, we'll get you squared away in no time.
  • -4 Hide
    daggs , July 17, 2012 7:36 PM
    ejb222So when are we going to see these on iPads, Apple computers, Android OS etc?

    I guess when there will be enough market share and alternatives
  • 11 Hide
    djscribbles , July 17, 2012 8:42 PM
    Wait a second... they left NetScape off the list! A travesty has been committed, we must form a committee!
  • 6 Hide
    jellico , July 17, 2012 8:43 PM
    This is nothing more than legalized extortion on the part of the EU. Microsoft is going to be fined because they don't provide a button to allow users in Europe the option to NOT install a free component of the operating system? Seriously?! Everyone knows IE sucks, so we all install other (probably multiple) browsers. Are users in Europe incapable of just installing a different browser and not using IE? And how do the European courts justify threatening them with a nearly four and a half billion dollar fine for providing a free feature in their product? I think sandmanwn hit the nail on the head. I'm surprised they haven't gone after Apple over iTunes, or for that matter, any car company over the tires that come pre-installed.
  • 4 Hide
    zachusaman , July 17, 2012 8:59 PM
    the nanny nations unite!
  • 4 Hide
    JMcEntegart , July 17, 2012 9:24 PM
    DjScribblesWait a second... they left NetScape off the list! A travesty has been committed, we must form a committee!


    Our first step should be to create a Facebook fan page to draw attention to our plight.
  • 0 Hide
    icemunk , July 17, 2012 10:02 PM
    chicofehrI wish the EU would just go away. Hasn't done anything good at all as far as I know except send the whole of Europe into a perpetual recession. I guess they have to fine the rich companies to pay their coffers as their states are all broke


    I think you're listening to the American news stations too much. Funny thing is, as much as all the DOOM and GLOOM news about all EU's troubles. It actually exports goods (outside the EU) than the USA (35% more approx.). Imports about the same amount as the USA. Has a lower overall government debt in total that the USA. It's deficit to GDP ratio is 4.5%.. vs the USA at 10%. Total debt % is 87% of total GDP, vs the USA's 100% of GDP. They're both doing pretty lousy these days on the economic front though.
  • -4 Hide
    molo9000 , July 17, 2012 10:05 PM
    ejb222So when are we going to see these on iPads, Apple computers, Android OS etc?


    When those have a monopoly they could be exploiting.
  • 1 Hide
    apache_lives , July 17, 2012 10:16 PM
    How dare the EU put its nose into Microsofts business and design whilst ignoring everyone else, its there os they can bundle what ever the hell they want thats what makes it an operating system.

    Good on microsoft for "accidentally" leaving that ballot out.
  • 3 Hide
    alextheblue , July 17, 2012 11:18 PM
    molo9000When those have a monopoly they could be exploiting.
    Apple has a virtual monopoly on portable music players (iPod). They have for years. I demand an iPod browser poll!

    Nobody is forcing you to use a Windows PC. Even if you felt that was the case, which it isn't, this is about preinstalled browsers. Internet Explorer is provided for free, and you can install another free browser in seconds if you so choose. You can even remove IE nowadays. They're not stopping you. Who are they exploiting, exactly? Are you being exploited? There, there now. Bundling IE must have been hard on you, poor chap. Typical Nanny State nonsense.

    Further, if you'll recall when the EU first levied their assault on IE, MS offered to remove the offending browser for EU markets. The EU refused, and imposed this browser poll on them. Not only can they not bundle IE with Windows, but they can't just remove it, either. Instead they have to advertise and in many cases install software from competitors. How absurd!
  • 5 Hide
    alextheblue , July 17, 2012 11:26 PM
    icemunkI think you're listening to the American news stations too much. Funny thing is, as much as all the DOOM and GLOOM news about all EU's troubles. It actually exports goods (outside the EU) than the USA (35% more approx.). Imports about the same amount as the USA. Has a lower overall government debt in total that the USA. It's deficit to GDP ratio is 4.5%.. vs the USA at 10%. Total debt % is 87% of total GDP, vs the USA's 100% of GDP. They're both doing pretty lousy these days on the economic front though.
    Yes, well enough about Obama and his ilk. The rampant spending of money we don't have will kick the economy into high gear, and erase our debt. Yep, it's coming any day now... he just needs to get re-elected first. Honest.
  • -1 Hide
    _Cubase_ , July 17, 2012 11:50 PM
    I hear you EU! I want to sue my local church for not offering me a choice of women at my wedding! I know that when I proposed to my current wife that she would be who I'd spend the rest of my life with, but when it came to "installing" the marriage, I should've been notified of other options!
  • -1 Hide
    alidan , July 18, 2012 12:00 AM
    alextheblueYes, well enough about Obama and his ilk. The rampant spending of money we don't have will kick the economy into high gear, and erase our debt. Yep, it's coming any day now... he just needs to get re-elected first. Honest.


    you know almost everything good he can do is voted against by republicans. even when republicans bring it up, and he supports it, suddenly they dont like it.

    i hate my country so much... i really wish it was a 3 party system.
  • 1 Hide
    A Bad Day , July 18, 2012 12:16 AM
    DjScribblesWait a second... they left NetScape off the list! A travesty has been committed, we must form a committee!


    They also left out IE6, WorldWideWeb (Nexus), Mosaic, Line Mode Browser, and AOL Explorer.
  • 1 Hide
    molo9000 , July 18, 2012 12:25 AM
    alextheblueNobody is forcing you to use a Windows PC.

    The desktop OS market is a classic case of a monopoly market: Huge economies of scale, sub-additive costs, strong network effects and high switching cost for the average user.

    95%+ market share for well over a decade and no real competitors in all those years despite profit margins around 30%. Bill Gates became the richest man in the world by selling desktop operating systems while his only competition were some scruffy idealists doing Linux. What more evidence do you need?
  • -5 Hide
    sykozis , July 18, 2012 12:27 AM
    alextheblueYes, well enough about Obama and his ilk. The rampant spending of money we don't have will kick the economy into high gear, and erase our debt. Yep, it's coming any day now... he just needs to get re-elected first. Honest.

    Nearly 70% of the US debt was directly caused by the Bush administration and this BS "war on terror"....get your facts straight before you post this shit. Just wait and see what happens if Romney gets elected....expect taxes for the middle-class to skyrocket (as his financial plan calls for the repeal of tax breaks and financial programs that benefit the middle-class and "poor" people).... Romney has already proven he can COST jobs.... Fact is, he's never actually created a single job in the US. His run as Governnor resulted in US factories being shutdown and unemployment increasing dramatically.

    alidanyou know almost everything good he can do is voted against by republicans. even when republicans bring it up, and he supports it, suddenly they dont like it. i hate my country so much... i really wish it was a 3 party system.

    We have the Republicans, the Democrats, the Tea Party, the Green Party and the Independence Party. The problem is the fact that Green Party and Independence Party candidates don't end up on ballats in every state thus making it impossible for either to ever gain any momentum. The last Independence Party candidate to end up on all 50 ballats was Ross Perot in 1988.... The Republicans aren't concerned with fixing the problems this country has....they're concerned with making Obama look bad. Knowing that most Republican supporters don't care about facts, they can pretty well do and say whatever they want and their supporters will believe them.....regardless of how obvious the lies are. At this time last year, the Bush administration was directly responsible for an estimated $14 TRILLION in spending on this BS "war on terror".....THAT is why the US is so far in debt.
  • 1 Hide
    alcalde , July 18, 2012 5:44 AM
    alextheblueNobody is forcing you to use a Windows PC. Even if you felt that was the case, which it isn't, this is about preinstalled browsers. Internet Explorer is provided for free, and you can install another free browser in seconds if you so choose. You can even remove IE nowadays. They're not stopping you. Who are they exploiting, exactly? Are you being exploited? There, there now. Bundling IE must have been hard on you, poor chap. Typical Nanny State nonsense.Further, if you'll recall when the EU first levied their assault on IE, MS offered to remove the offending browser for EU markets. The EU refused, and imposed this browser poll on them. Not only can they not bundle IE with Windows, but they can't just remove it, either. Instead they have to advertise and in many cases install software from competitors. How absurd!


    1. Nobody is forcing you to use a Windows PC? Microsoft is a monopoly. Of course people are being forced to use a Windows PC! Every PC except some sold out of people's garages comes with Windows preinstalled, whether the customer wants it or not. And... seriously... you do understand that Microsoft formats have become de facto standards, creating vendor lock-in and forcing customers to use their products for that reason, right?

    2. At least in 2009, most people didn't know they had a choice in browsers, just like most people today don't know that other operating systems exist. When the browser choice screen was implemented, IE share plunged several percent in Europe within months and Chrome, Firefox and Opera all went up there, so any contentions you make are disputed by the data. People didn't know they had a choice, and when one was given to them (along with an explanation), many made a choice they weren't making before.

    Monopolies hurt consumers and they hurt capitalism. Cheering on and supporting the existence of monopolies is beyond absurd (and ignorant). Competition makes things better, like AMD made Intel better and ATI/AMD and NVidia's arms race has made graphics cards cheaper, faster, and more full-featured. Pressure from Android makes iOS better and vice versa. Increased competition only makes Internet Explorer a better browser. I don't understand your problem with that and your need to defend poor, abused Microsoft from a government entity trying to look out for your own best interests against your will. Heck, maybe Windows would be a better OS if there was an OS choice screen on first boot up... the latest version of Windows; the previous version; Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, Mint and Sabayon linux distros; and none (I'll install my own). If you choose any of the non-Windows versions the computer lets you fill out a form to get a refund on the unused bundled Windows then either installs the alternate OS or formats the hard drive and then shuts down. Maybe MS would have thought twice about Metro.....


    By the way, I thought all the Ron Paul wannabes hung out at Anandtech and Tom's was the last bastion for those who didn't name their kids after characters in The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged?
  • 0 Hide
    back_by_demand , July 18, 2012 8:37 AM
    alcalde1. Nobody is forcing you to use a Windows PC? Microsoft is a monopoly. Of course people are being forced to use a Windows PC! Every PC except some sold out of people's garages comes with Windows preinstalled, whether the customer wants it or not. And... seriously... you do understand that Microsoft formats have become de facto standards, creating vendor lock-in and forcing customers to use their products for that reason, right? 2. At least in 2009, most people didn't know they had a choice in browsers, just like most people today don't know that other operating systems exist. When the browser choice screen was implemented, IE share plunged several percent in Europe within months and Chrome, Firefox and Opera all went up there, so any contentions you make are disputed by the data. People didn't know they had a choice, and when one was given to them (along with an explanation), many made a choice they weren't making before. Monopolies hurt consumers and they hurt capitalism. Cheering on and supporting the existence of monopolies is beyond absurd (and ignorant). Competition makes things better, like AMD made Intel better and ATI/AMD and NVidia's arms race has made graphics cards cheaper, faster, and more full-featured. Pressure from Android makes iOS better and vice versa. Increased competition only makes Internet Explorer a better browser. I don't understand your problem with that and your need to defend poor, abused Microsoft from a government entity trying to look out for your own best interests against your will. Heck, maybe Windows would be a better OS if there was an OS choice screen on first boot up... the latest version of Windows; the previous version; Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, Mint and Sabayon linux distros; and none (I'll install my own). If you choose any of the non-Windows versions the computer lets you fill out a form to get a refund on the unused bundled Windows then either installs the alternate OS or formats the hard drive and then shuts down. Maybe MS would have thought twice about Metro.....By the way, I thought all the Ron Paul wannabes hung out at Anandtech and Tom's was the last bastion for those who didn't name their kids after characters in The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged?

    Even without any operating system to act as a springboard, saleable product to generate revenue or large media advertising campaign Mozilla managed to push Firefox as a serious threat to IE
    ...
    All without an iota of assistance from the EU
    ...
    iPads are almost a monopoly in the tablet sector, but the EU hasn't forced a browser choice on them seeing as the bundle Safari - so where is the difference?
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