Microsoft fined 561m for not showing browser ballot on Win7 SP1

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The European Commission has fined Microsoft €561 ($730 million) for not complying with a three-year old agreement to give Windows users a selection of alternative browsers. In 2009, Microsoft faced an antitrust case with the EU that suggested the company abused its position by forcing Internet Explorer on Windows customers, putting Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari and other solutions at a competitive disadvantage.

To settle that investigation, Microsoft agreed to show Windows XP, Vista and 7 users a ballot screen that contained a randomly ordered list of downloadable alternative browsers. That effort began on February 22, 2010, but Microsoft slipped up a year later when it shipped Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) without the ballot. The selection screen remained absent for 14 months and European authorities eventually took notice.

In a statement released on its site today, Microsoft blamed the mishap on an unexplained technical error, for which the company said it accepts full responsibility. "We provided the Commission with a complete and candid assessment of the situation, and we have taken steps to strengthen our software development and other processes to help avoid this mistake -- or anything similar -- in the future," the company said.

"Today's decision finds that Microsoft has indeed breached its legally binding commitments," the EC said. "Such a breach is of course very serious, irrespective of whether it was intentional or not, and it calls for a sanction. The Commission has therefore imposed a fine, as foreseen by the EU's Antitrust Regulation. This is the first time that the Commission has found a breach of legally binding commitments enshrined in an art. 9 Decision."

The EC can reportedly issue a fine as high as 10% of a company's global annual revenue but they are generally much lower. Intel holds the record for receiving the region's largest single fine after being hit with a €1.1 billion ($1.4 billion) penalty in 2009 for abusing its market dominance. However, with this week's €561 million sanction, the NYT says Microsoft has racked up €2.26 billion in EU antitrust fines over the last decade.

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