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EC Poised to Unleash Its Wrath on Microsoft

By Erika Morphy
Mar 1, 2013 10:50 AM PT

It will be déjà vu all over again for Microsoft, which apparently is about to be slapped with a stiff fine for violating the European Union's antitrust rules.

EC Poised to Unleash Its Wrath on Microsoft

The European Commission will impose a penalty by the end of March for Microsoft's violation of a 2009 pledge to allow European users of its Windows operating system to choose among competing browsers, according to a Reuters report citing three anonymous sources.

The European Commission accused Microsoft of violating that promise last October, noting that between February 2011 and July 2012, Windows failed to provide a browser choice.

Microsoft blamed the lapse on a technical error and apologized. It also said that after discussions with the Commission, it would change some aspects of the way the Browser Choice Screen would work on Windows 8.

Microsoft declined to comment for this story.

Year-and-a-Half Glitch

It is little wonder the EC is aggrieved -- the explanation Microsoft offered doesn't pass the smell test, Peter Toren, an attorney with Weisbrod, Matteis & Copley, told the E-Commerce Times.

"I have a hard time believing that Microsoft would have a glitch that lasted for a year and a half," he said.

At best, "it suggests that someone at Microsoft was asleep at the wheel," said Toren. "At worst, it shows it is not taking its legal responsibilities seriously."

Bundling IE With Windows

This particular clash between Microsoft and the EU began at the beginning of 2008 when the European Commission began exploring whether Microsoft was violating European competitive rules by tying Internet Explorer to Windows. A year later, in January of 2009, it formalized the matter by issuing a statement of objections.

Bundling the two products, the commission said at the time, "harms competition between web browsers, undermines product innovation and ultimately reduces consumer choice."

This was hardly the first time Microsoft had clashed with the EC -- the issue of bundling has been a common theme for European regulators.

In March 2004, the Commission ordered Microsoft to offer a version of its Windows client without Windows Media Player for the same reason -- because bundling the products was a violation of its anticompetitive rules. Microsoft wound up spending hundreds of millions of dollars fighting that particular battle, only to lose it in the end.

That is likely why Microsoft eventually opted to settle the complaint about bundling its browser with Windows in the summer of 2009 instead of fighting the charges. As part of the settlement, it agreed to display a "Browser Choice Screen" on Windows PCs in Europe.

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