As part of an agreement with the European Commission in 2009, Microsoft was supposed to present Windows users with a choice of browsers when they booted their computers for the first time. It turns out, however, that Microsoft quietly stopped showing this screen with the release of Windows 7 SP1 in February 2011. According to European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, this means 28 million users in the EU did not get to see this screen and were simply presented with Internet Explorer as the default browser. Microsoft has acknowledged that it did indeed make an “error” and has now fixed this issue and resumed showing the browser choice screen on all new PCs with Windows 7 SP1.
Microsoft says that it acted quickly once it was made aware of the error and has now “retained experienced outside counsel to conduct a formal investigation of precisely how the technical error occurred.” All of the 28 million PCs that were supposed to show the selection screen will now also show it retroactively within the next week and Microsoft has offered to extend the time during which it will show the browser choice screen by 15 months. How nobody in the company noticed this mistake for almost 18 months remains a mystery, however.
Despite its swift reaction now, however, Microsoft didn’t follow up on its legally binding promise to the European Commission between February 2011 and July 2012, something Almunia isn’t going to take lightly, given his statement from earlier today. Almunia promises that if this breach is confirmed, “this could have severe consequences.” If the infringement is confirmed, he said, “there will be sanctions.”
The fact that Microsoft sent the Commission a compliance report in December 2011 and told the Commission that it was distributing the browser choice screen is also something that Almunia is likely to hold against the company. What’s interesting here, too, is that neither the Commission nor Microsoft apparently checked whether these statements were true.