Following complaints from several companies, the software giant Microsoft has again come under the microscope of EU antitrust regulators. This investigation is concerned with whether Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system blocks computer makers from installing rival web browsers to Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer.
Microsoft has said that it will comply with the demands of European antitrust authorities.
The last time such an accusation was made against Microsoft Corporation was only 3 years ago. In 2009, Microsoft reached a settlement with EU authorities after being accused of unfairly gaining browser shares by bundling Internet Explorer with their Windows operating system package. The agreement resulted in Microsoft implementing a ‘browser ballot’ as a mandatory Windows update. The ballot, officially called Browser Choice Screen or BCS, allowed users to select a web browser of their choice, such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, to be made available alongside Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer.
This option was to be made available to users through 2014 and to be included in future operating systems until that time. It was first presented to users in February 2010.
Since the agreement however, it appears that more than 28 million PCs have not been provided with the ‘browser ballot’ option. This began in February 2011 with the introduction of a software bundle for the Windows 7 operating system called Service Pack 1. The Browser Choice Screen was not included in this package.
In a statement made on July 17, Microsoft said this was “due to a technical error” on Windows 7’s Service Pack 1. The company estimated that it had already distributed ‘BCS’ software to 90% of the PCs that should have received it, but recognized that it had made a commitment to provide this software to every PC that required it.
According to Microsoft’s statement the BCS software, once installed, checks if Internet Explorer is the default browser on the given PC. If it is the default browser, the software displays the browser ballot. The engineering team responsible did not realize they had to update the detection system for the BCS software to be compatible with Windows 7 Service Pack 1. As a result, new PCs and this service pack did not receive the software as planned.
Upon initial accusations in July, Microsoft developed a software fix and completed the distribution to missed PCs within a week. The corporation also offered to extend the terms of the 2009 settlement for an additional 15 months.
In the beginning of 2009, Internet Explorer held 44.8% of browser users, while Firefox and Chrome held 45.5% and 3.9% respectively. As of July 2012, Internet Explorer holds just 16.3% of the market, while Firefox holds 33.7% and Chrome has emerged as the leader with 42.9% of users.
Joaquin Almunia, EC Competition Commissioner, said that it was thanks to the Commission that “a range of innovative products that would otherwise not have seen the light of day were introduced on the market.”
For this reason Almunia considers this matter a “very, very serious issue.”
If Microsoft is found to have broken European antitrust laws, the software giant may face fines of up to 10% annual global revenue as well as changes on how it conducts business within the EU.