EU to investigate Microsoft over browser choice (again)

Remember when the European Commission found Microsoft guilty of anti-trust practices and ordered it to offer users a choice of browser?

In December 2009, the company was ordered to give Windows users a ‘choice screen’ for the following five years, offering them alternatives to the then-dominant Internet Explorer.

But while you may remember this, it seems Microsoft didn’t. When it launched Windows 7 Service Pack 1 in February last year, the choice screen was conspicuous by its absence. This, says the Commission, means that as many as 28 million PC owners never saw the screen.

But despite this, says the Commission, the company still assured it that it was complying with its commitments in December last year.

As a result, the EC has, rather wearily, one presumes, yet again opened proceedings against Microsoft.

“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,” says Joaquín Almunia, vice president of the Commission in charge of competition policy.

“If following our investigation, the infringement is confirmed, Microsoft should expect sanctions.”

These sanctions could amount to as much as ten percent of the company’s total annual turnover, or a whacking $7 billion.

While Internet Explorer isn’t anywhere near as dominant as it was two years ago, it still has a hefty slice of the market. According to recent figures from NetMarketShare, it still holds 54 percent.

Microsoft says it was simply an error that the choice screen was omitted. It’s working on a fix to add the option screen, and expects to distribute it this week. It’s also launched its own internal investigation to examine how the mistake was made.