Microsoft has been forced to apologize to the European Commission over its failure to ensure that Windows users are given the choice to use whatever web browser they want, and may find itself facing a fine or some form of additional sanction over the matter.
According to EC competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia, the issue at stake is that in failing to offer users the choice, the company is in breach of a legal agreement that’s been in place for three years now, and has been for over a year. As a result of its packaging of Internet Explorer as Windows’ default web browserMicrosoft found itself accused of “blocking genuine consumer choice” by the EC back in 2009, leading to the company agreeing to install a “choice screen” that would allow all users the ability to select IE, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Opera or others as their computer’s default browser. The screen was put in place that year, but disappeared in February of last year, according to Almunia. That sixteen month gap means that more than 20 million Windows users were not given a choice of browsers, according to estimates.
For its part, Microsoft is putting the disappearance down to simple error. “Due to a technical error, we missed delivering the [browser choice screen] software to PCs that came with the Service Pack 1 update to Windows 7,” the company explained in a statement. “The BCS software has been delivered as it should have been to PCs running the original version of Windows 7, as well as the relevant versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista. However, while we believed when we filed our most recent compliance report in December 2011 that we were distributing the BCS software to all relevant PCs as required, we learned recently that we’ve missed serving the BCS software to the roughly 28 million PCs running Windows 7 SP1.”
The company is putting blame on the error on the shoulders of its engineering team, who apparently did not understand the need to continue to offer the BCS software in order to be compliant with the EC agreement. The mistake was discovered at the end of last month, and Microsoft claims that it began distributing software fixes by July 2. “We expect to substantially complete distribution of the BCS software to the PCs we initially missed by the end of the week,” the company’s statement revealed. A spokesperson added that the company “deeply regret[ted]” the mistake, and that it had “fallen short in our responsibility to do this” and would voluntarily agree to a 15 month extension of European Commission oversight to make up for the mistake.
Unfortunately, neither regret nor lengthier oversight is not enough for Almunia or the European Commission, which is now weighing the idea of whether or not the matter need be taken further. “Needless to say, we take compliance with our decision very seriously,” Almunia said. “If the infringement is confirmed, there will be sanctions.”
A decision is expected shortly.