European Union Expects to Fine Microsoft Up to $7.4 Billion for "Technical Error" in Windows

Paul Lilly

Time and again, European Union regulators have proven they're not the least bit bashful about slapping mega corporations like Microsoft and Intel with gargantuan fines for violating antitrust laws. In fact, Microsoft has already been assessed around $1.28 billion in the last decade for various dealings in the EU, and if EU officials are feeling particularly ornery, they could penalize Microsoft up to $7.4 billion, or up to 10 percent of its revenues, for what amounts to an unfortunate " technical error ."

Let's backtrack for a second. Back in 2009, the EU ordered Microsoft to begin offering Windows users a choice of web browsers in Europe. The so-called browser ballot was intended to even the playing field, and not long after it was implemented, Opera Software claimed it saw triple the amount of browser downloads.

Things were fine since then, up until earlier this year when some PCs running pre-loaded copies of Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 shipped to European without the browser ballot. Microsoft blamed the oversight on a technical error, saying it affected around 28 million PCs. European customers who purchased PCs running the original version of Windows 7 or relevant versions of Windows XP and Vista were unaffected.

That error could end up costing Microsoft a lot of money.

"The next step is to open a formal proceeding into the company's breach of an agreement. We are working on this," EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia reportedly told reporters at a conference in Warsaw. "It should not be a long investigation because the company itself explicitly recognized its breach of the agreement."

While Microsoft may be hoping for lenience, especially since it has been, for the most part, complying with the original order, the EU may look to make an example out of the software maker. If we had to venture a guess, we'd say it probably won't be nearly as high as the maximum fine -- $7.4 billion -- but probably several million dollars, if not hundreds of millions.

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