A "technical error" related to a Windows Service Pack ends up costing Microsoft hundreds of millions of dollars in fines.
It was rumored the European Union wanted to close its investigation into Microsoft's "browser ballot" screw-up and levy a fine before Easter break, a mission it's now achieved with weeks to spare. E.U. regulators decided to punish Microsoft to the tune of €561 million, or a little more than $731 million in U.S. currency, for failing to comply with an agreement to provide users with a browser choice screen (the so-called browser ballot) upon firing up Windows for the first time.
Microsoft is once again in hot water with European Union (EU) antitrust officials, this time for failing to fully comply with a 2009 settlement in which the Redmond software company agreed to give customers a choice of which Web browser to use when installing Windows. For the most part, Microsoft had been doing that, except in some instances where PCs shipped to European customers with Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 pre-installed.
When Microsoft agreed to add a browser ballot screen to copies of Windows sold in Europe, many questioned just how much of an impact this would have on Internet Explorer’s market share. If you count yourself among the naysayers then feel free to make a triumphant fist pump, because the early feedback would seem to agree with you. According to the New York Times the first six months of data is suggesting that the browser ballot screen is having only a minor influence on the browser decision making process, and has renewed the debate over the effectiveness of mandated antitrust remedies.
According to StatCounter reports, Microsoft’s European share has dropped from 44.9 percent in January to around 39.8 percent today, but it’s almost impossible to tell if the browser ballot screen is to blame. Experts argue that the decline curve seen in the EU matches losses in other markets, with much of the lost IE business moving over to Google Chrome. Google’s share of the European market has doubled to 11.9 percent over the past twelve months, and they even managed to pick up 5.8 percent during the same period in which IE shed 5.1 percent. Is this the result of the browser ballot screen? Or just Google making a more compelling product?
What would you do if you were greeted with a browser ballot screen with your new install? For many people Internet Explorer is the best browser for downloading other browsers, but would you actually want a Windows PC without it at all? Let us know after the jump and help us conduct our own unofficial survey.
As part of a regulatory requirement imposed by the European Union, Microsoft has implemented a browser ballot for European Windows users, and as expected, the ballot has given rise to alternative browsers.
According to Mozilla, more than 50,000 people had downloaded Firefox as a direct result of the choice screen Microsoft is forced to show.
"It's definitely being taken up, so consumers are paying attention and taking advantage of the choice being offered to them," said Thomas Vinje, legal counsel to the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, a lobbying group based in Brussels whose members include Opera.
While the initial results look promising for Firefox and other competitors, Microsoft said it's too early to draw a conclusion on whether the choice screen could lead to significant users ditching Internet Explorer.
There's been a lot of talk regarding Microsoft's upcoming browser ballot, but not a whole lot of concrete details, and no screenies. Until today. In a blog post, Microsoft's deputy counsel Dave Heiner outlined "what to expect" from its EU-mandated "Web browser choice screen."
"External testing of the choice screen will begin next week in three countries: the United Kingdom, Belgium, and France. Anyone in those countries who wishes to test it can download the browser choice screen software update from Windows Update. We plan to begin a phased roll-out of the update across Europe the week of March 1," Heiner wrote.
The browser choice screen will include a "list of leading browsers," including Google Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari, Opera Software's Opera, and of course Redmond's own Internet Explorer. These five browsers will be displayed in random order so as not to favor one over the other. Users will also have the option of scrolling to the right to view 7 more browsers, also laid out in random order.
In July, the European Commission and Microsoft finally reached some common ground in their protracted dispute over the bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows, when Microsoft finally assented to the Commission’s favorite solution: a browser ballot. But the European Commission wants to make sure that the proposed browser ballot doesn’t eventually turn out be a well thought out artifice.
"Microsoft has cunningly found a way to accept the commission's suggestion of a ballot screen, but to do so in a way that will be entirely ineffective," ECIS's lawyer, Thomas Vinje, told the WSJ. Ironically, Microsoft plans to offer the ballot screen from within Internet Explorer. Though not opposed to the idea, Mozilla wants it to be modified.
Last week we reported on the new concessions Microsoft was proposing to the EU in the hopes of quelling its ongoing antitrust battles in Europe. The solution was a simple ballot screen pushed out as a “high priority” Windows Update, but what we didn’t know at the time is that it will also be sent out to computers running Windows XP and Vista as well.
The exact lineup of browsers hasn’t been finalized yet, but it is said to include 10 of “the most widely-used web browsers that run on Windows with a usage share of equal to or more than 0.5% in the European Economic Area”. Oddly enough, it’s still not even clear if Opera meets these requirements and given that they are the ones responsible for the antitrust woes facing Microsoft, would be bitter justice.
Opera officials overjoyed with the concessions, but never resting on their laurels, are said to now be pushing for an “icon-less ballot screen”. I suppose they are concerned that many users associate the “blue E” icon with “internet” and it still gives an unfair advantage to Microsoft. They are also said to be asking that this browser ballot be pushed out worldwide, but I somehow doubt Microsoft will take this approach. The browser ballot screen will include two links, one to the manufacturers website where they can learn more and an extra link directly to a download server.
Given the amazing amount of concessions being made by Microsoft, is Opera being unreasonable by asking for more?
"The European Commission can confirm that Microsoft has proposed a consumer ballot screen as a solution to the pending antitrust case,” EU revealed in a statement.
Microsoft had been hoping EU would allow it to ship Windows without a browser. EU had agreed to this solution when bundling of Windows Media Player was at issue, but the results proved that it was just a ruse. Had EU lent its seal of approval to Microsoft’s favorite solution, the company would have found it very easy to influence OEMs.