Microsoft Under EU Scrutiny Over Browser Choice Screen
July 17, 2012

Microsoft Under EU Scrutiny Over Browser Choice Screen

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

The European Commission has begun an investigation into whether Microsoft failed to follow through with antitrust commitments it made back in 2009.

The European Union executive body announced that it would begin probing Microsoft to determine whether it had "fallen short" of its obligation to provide the "browser choice screen (BCS)."

The controversy started back in 2009, when the European Commission announced that Microsoft violated European competition law by bundling its Internet Explorer browser with Windows.

Microsoft said that it would ship a version of Windows 7 with a "browser ballot," and the EU approved that plan back in December of the same year. The company started rolling out the BCS two months later.

The screen in question would allow users of Microsoft's Windows operating systems to select a browser other than Microsoft's Internet Explorer to use.

Due to a technical error, we missed delivering the BCS software to PCs that came with the service pack 1 update to Windows 7,” Microsoft said in a statement.

The company said that computers running the original version of Windows 7, as well as Windows XP and Windows Vista, did not have the choice to change browsers through the BCS screen.

“While we have taken immediate steps to remedy this problem, we deeply regret that this error occurred and we apologize for it,” Microsoft said.

Joaquin Almunia, EU Competition Commissioner, told reporters that it appears that the choice screen has not been provided since February 2011, meaning 28 million customers who should have had a choice may have not had one.

Microsoft submitted a report to the Commission in December asserting that the browser choice screen was being provided as required. The company said in its statement on Tuesday that at the time, it believed it was being provided.

Microsoft said it had retained outside counsel to conduct a formal investigation of how the technical error occurred, and to make suggestions to avoid such compliance problems in the future.

"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," Joaquín Almunia, vice president of the Commission in charge of competition policy, said in a statement. "If following our investigation, the infringement is confirmed, Microsoft should expect sanctions."

Microsoft said the technical error was due to its Windows Update system, which uses a "detection light" to determine which software updates to distribute to which PCs.

"Unfortunately, the engineering team responsible for maintenance of this code did not realize that it needed to update the detection logic for the BCS software when Windows 7 SP1 was released last year," Microsoft said in a press release. "As a result of this error, new PCs with Windows 7 SP1 did not receive the BCS software as they should have."