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European Commission investigating Microsoft's possible lack of compliance with web browser choice

The European Commission announced plans today to open an investigation to determine whether or not Microsoft has failed to comply with its browser choice commitment, which was applied in 2009. The commitment saw the software giant presenting customers of its Windows operating system with a screen listing available alternatives to Internet Explorer (see above). This was put in place due to Microsoft being found guilty of abusing its dominant position with IE in the browser market.

Joaquín Almunia, Vice President of the Commission in charge of competition policy, had the following to comment.

"We take compliance with our decisions very seriously. And I trusted the company's reports were accurate. But it seems that was not the case, so we have immediately taken action. If following our investigation, the infringement is confirmed, Microsoft should expect sanctions"

Competing browsers have previously spoken publicly about the potential antitrust violations Microsoft is dancing around by preventing third party browsers access to the same APIs IE uses in Windows 8. With the down-spiral of IE and the massive increase in users for both Firefox and Chrome, is it worth penalising Microsoft heavily for a ballot box screen, which arguably adds little value to the user experience? 

According to the announcement, the EC believes that Microsoft may have failed to implement the browser choice screen from February 2011 onwards with the release of Windows 7 SP1. It'll be interesting to see the outcome of this investigation, especially from a financial standpoint, with a possible fine of up to 10% of Microsoft's total annual turnover, should it be found guilty of breaching the commitment.

How do you feel about the bundling of software in Windows 8? Do you believe Microsoft still has a duty to provide such choice to customers regarding web browsers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Source: European Commission, via: The Verge

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

  • They should comply and just make sure IE kicks competition ass.
  • Personally I don't really care either way as long as they don't stop other browsers from working on Windows 8 as I'll just be able to download them. For the people not in the know I do feel they should still give users a slightly more educational choice as there are still a lot of people that don't know about or trust other browsers and just stick with IE regardless.
  • It's a bunch of crap, anyone with half a brain can change browsers to whatever they want in moments. This is just another stupid measure to punish success. Society today in general is terrible at that, it used to be the American dream to become wealthy from your hard work, now people try to make it seem like its bad. Sorry for the rant, but this type of thing is just insane.
  • Agreed. This is just the EC looking to leverage another fine. The EU needs money.
  • LOL... as if collecting such fines would have any impact on the EU/EC financing situation at all.
  • Actually, it says right in the article, IE uses some API's that the other browsers can't use. With WindowsRT I'm not even sure you can download other browsers that will work on it.
  • so? why is everyone allowed to make a wallet garden OS but MSFT?
  • Because M$ is evil! Everyone knows that!
  • Does MS and Google have the same APIs as apple on OSx? Obviously they must have?
  • *Mac OS or whatever its called
  • OSX is quite different than that of Windows RT.  iOS is more like Windows RT, which you can't change the default browser without Jailbreaking the device.  So why is MS getting shafted and not Apple?  "Cuz M$ is eeevul!!!1!!11!"
  • Ok 2 things here..
    1) the article mentions Windows Phone something that I don't think their earlier findings cover (it's not like Windows Phone is anywhere near a monopoly that anyone is all that concerned about.. it is technically possible to create a browser on Windows Phone 7 if you want.. I don't, but it could be done).
    2) I am typing this on Windows8 Release Preview using Chrome.. I know you mentioned
    "WindowsRT," but just like WP7 it should be technically possible (and easier with C++ access). I suspect that we will see Metro versions of the popular browsers, and I highly doubt MS will block them in their store...
  • American dream.... lmao.... but I have to admit EC is as naiv as that 'dream'
  • Oh just go away...
  • The EC is pathetic and MS should revert to the previous ways. All they have to do is look at market share and determine the effects. And who cares if IE is the default? Apple doesn't allow me to uninstall Safari on the iPad. In fact, it won't even allow me to set a default. Is it because Apple owns the hardware and OS which by default is a bigger monopoly than MS?
  • Why don't they do this with iOS?
  • Likewise why don't they hold Macs and Safari to the same standard.
  • Or even Google's Android
  • by no means am i saying that microsoft is 100% a saint but it seems everytime microsoft makes 1 step forward these ridiculous things come out against them and send them 2 steps back....
  • I never liked the idea of the browser selection screen, in fact it annoyed me when it first appeared. Not because I like IE, but because I was already using an alternative, better browser (Opera). I am all in favour of MS having to open the API to other browsers, but forcing MS to propose alternative brwosers is somewhat stupid.
  • With the rise of Chrome and genuine competition in the browser space it's hard to make a valid case for this anymore.
  • Its not about the IE at all, its about Windows (thats the monopoly) being shipped with IE per default and no other option.
  • Then why don't they do the same to Apple for making Safari the default? Especially on the iPad where Apple enjoys a massive monopoly. Sad thing is that the EU is going to end up screwing up Windows 8 for bundling all this stuff when Apple and others get away the exact same thing and more. MS = EU's piggy bank. They still see them as M$
  • Being a monopoly is not illegal - it's the abuse of that monopoly position to compete unfairly that is illegal (and what Microsoft was convicted of).
  • That still doesn't address Apples near abuse of their monopoly in the tablet world, and in every other market they are trying to dominate in.
  • Doesn't android ship with their own browser? What about apple? I've never seen another OS say... "hey, why don't you try opera instead of your current browser?"
  • Its about monopolies....
    Apple has no monopoly. iOS is in a oligopoly, Mac OS is completely irrelevant.
  • IOS may be in an oligopoly in the smartphone space. But when it comes to tablets they are most definitely a monopoly. I think an argument could be made that they are abusing their position in the mobile/tablet market by requiring you to purchase a Mac computer to be able to develop for it.
  • Well its a pretty new market, they didnt sue MS for shipping win95 with IE, too.
    But you got a point there, its a stupid way to fight monopolies.
  • For anyone that has a problem with IE being installed as the default I say we give them a special copy of windows that doesn't have any web browsers installed. I'd like to see them figure that out and I'm pretty sure they would stop complaining about IE being there.
  • There is actually a way to download Firefox without a browser, but you'd most likely need a browser in the first place to know how!
  • +1 jejeje
  • haha good one.
  • EC =/= European people.
  • There is one already. The EC made them make one since XP just for Europe. It's called the N edition, but it's always the equivalent of the basic edition, just with none of Microsoft's software included and the browser choice thing popping up at the first boot. Also completely disagree with the whole monopoly crap anyway. If Microsoft really had a monopoly they would be attempting to charge more for everything, but does a $40 update to Windows 8 sound like a monopoly or a company looking to regain market share when the PC business is in decline?
  • I swear Apple pays these people to go after MS.
  • This is so stupid. MS does the heavy lifting un developing the software and knowing what's probably going to provide the best experience out of the box, and then you have these leeches coming looking for a way to get a payday. Where's the common sense in all this. Do you hear Mozilla, Apple, or other browser devs helping MS. So why do they expect to get equal footing?
  • When I first read of this incident a few years ago, I regarded the EC as stupid and a bully. Now, still the same position. I wonder why Microsoft didn't fight back and humiliate them since they have a case, which is simple since any software can be installed on Windows, be it an internet browser, anti-virus software, games, etc.
    Oh, and guess how the EC treated the legal fighting between Apple and Samsung? All they did was to tell them to take their battles elsewhere instead of taking action on either of them for anti-competitive behaviour. Hypocrites.
  • thats not true, sorry.
    Some galaxy products (dont recall them, cant stand samsung) couldnt be sold in the EU or some EU countries at the least.
  • That was as a result of national court rulings (like Germany) not the European Commission.
  • I'm not 100% sure and to lazy to check that, but I think it was at leas by European laws, not national laws. You can enforce european law in european countries.
    The sales ban was as a result of a German court rather than one based in Brussles
  • I doubt it was delliberate Most people would be happy to see the back of it Nobody noticed so what does that tell us Microsoft continued to lose market share anyway in countries that did not have the choice  
     Another example of EU bureaucracy gone mad.
  • Personally, I don't believe Microsoft should be under any added obligation to present alternatives to their browser any more than they should offer links to buy Apple computers, OS/2, Linux, etc.  Customers can educate themselves and get what they need. As long as that isn't prevented. As for hooks into OS.  Build your own operating system.  The fact is, the dominant force will always be criticized for something. You will never appease everyone.  I suspect this is more about a way of extoring money from Microsoft to pay for EU financial problems... as much as I'd like to keep politics out of this. :(
  • Why es commision never investigating google with theirs androids web browser choises? Iphone safare browser
  • This is one of the reasons why EU is in trouble. Instead of working on real problems they spend their time and money on stupid things like browser choice on windows. Some idiot and team of assistants probably was working on this "problem" for more than ten years.
  • Microsoft always used to mean 'choice'. If I wanted to be locked into an ecosystem, Id go with Apple. Personally, I'm happy the EC are stepping in as we shouldn't be limited to IE. For starters, IE10 is a memory hog so I'm not happy about being lumbered with it.
  • How are you lumbered with IE10 when the following scenarios exist:
    1 - The final product has not shipped.
    2 - You are not forced to install IE10.
    3 - You ar enot forced to buy Windows 8.
  • Exactly, some people just don't understand
  • I hate the EC with a passion they always bullying companies.. In an unfair manner
  • Government sucks, someone wants to kick MS's ass. Build a better mouse trap and let the people decide. Europe is going bankrupt, desolve that commission, that would save a few bucks.
  • Why is it only Microsoft that has to include browser choices into their software that they work so hard to make just so others can make a profit offer it .. All because EC & EU are stupid instead of worrying about real shit to save their economy they worrying about bulling Microsoft. Android isn't included with browser choice neither is the iPhone or Macs
  • MS should have the right to bundle their software with their OS. Anyone who has a problem are free to go elsewhere
  • Anyone who knows anything these days, knows how/where to get a different browser. IE crashes constantly despite what they day in their release notes or whatever for each version. Even IE10 crashed on my wife's laptop. She now uses Firefox as do I.
  • No you got that wrong, I've gotten more crashes on Firefox than I have on IE9. Plus IE10 isn't complete yet.
  • You took the words out of my mouth Lemme.See....
    I used FF for years as earlier IEs were bug ridden and open to ActiveX exploits. But recent FFs have been absolutely crap on both my X86 and X64 systems, I've gone back to IE9 and glad I did!
  • And he hasn't come back yet so he's feeling salty.
  • I cannot believe the EU hasn't come down like Thor's hammer on Apple yet.  They are 10x worse with compliance and interoperability with competition.
  • Actually they have.. They started an investigation about a year ago regarding ITunes being a monopoly.. Give them time...
  • I don't use IE, I prefer Firefox but through my own preference. It is up to the other companies to advertise their browsers and then let the consumer decide. Its not down to the European Commission to dictate to Microsoft to basically advertise a competitors browser.
  • Microsoft should just ignore the EU and not pay any fines or implement the browser choice screen. Microsoft is based in America, so what's the worst the EU can do? Block importation of Microsoft products? Fine, let them shoot themselves in the foot. They'll find out what it's like when one of the world's largest consumer markets no longer has access to the operating system they need to run 90% of their software.
  • This would be the most awesome thing in the history of awesome.
  • "With the down-spiral of IE and the massive increase in users for both Firefox and Chrome"-- how did you get to such a conclusion? Where's your proof to back this allegation? As far as I know all the currently-supported versions of IE combined still dominate the web browsing market. IE9 in particular has seen an uppward trend for some time now.
  • +1
  • And the EU Commission shows why big government is the wrong way. They talk about Windows 7 meanwhile Windows 8 is due to be launched and Google Chrome is the biggest browser. How did all those people outside of the EU manage to install a separate browser without the browser choice screen?
  • 1. Why didn't EU use the fine from last time to educate people?
    2. Ehcoing others' objections, why not the same on iOS, which practically forbits other browsers (unless you use webkit). 
    3. EU's sole purpose of existing is to give those stupid breaucrats jobs, and they sole purpose is making up works to keep themselves in jobs. Bunch of F*#! S!#@
  • Eh??
    Every time I installed Win7 I had this choice thingy popping up....
    And I still don't know how they actually make money by having users install them.
  • Oh for crying out loud... Does Google have to pimp IE in Android? Does Apple have to pimp IE in MacOS? Why are different rules applied to MS? Give me a break!
  • Like has been said, not sure how this is an issue when the capability to download other browsers exist.
  • Firefox is terrible these days.  IE9 and IE10 have passed it.  I usually use Chrome though.
  • The EU should stuff it. I think they bigger fish to fry than browser choice. Seems like a cash grab and a terrible double standard.
  • I understand that since Windows has the majority market share of computer OS that IE is used by tons of people, but with the increased awareness of alternate browsers, and the fact that Chrome/Firefox has surpassed IE in some markets is what leads me to say this is all just a bunch of BS. Just a way to leech off the success Microsoft has.
  • Was using IE but got so crappy switch to chrome