Browser Ballot Screw Up Could Cost Microsoft Billions of Dollars

The European Commission doesn't mess around when it comes to antitrust law, nor is it afraid to hit companies with large fines for not playing by the rules in the European Union (EU). As such, Microsoft now finds itself in hot water for inadvertently breaking a promise to offer Windows users living in Europe a choice of Web browser rather than force feeding them Internet Explorer.

Back in 2009, Microsoft settled an antitrust suit with the EU by agreeing to display a so-called browser ballot in Windows 7. The browser screen presented European users with five main browser choices, with seven more available via scrolling.

Browser Choice

That was all fine and dandy, up until the browser screen disappeared following the roll-out of Service Pack 1. Microsoft fessed up to the broken browser screen, admitting that it failed to meet its obligations with the EU from February 2011 until July 2012 "due to a technical error."

It's a technical error that could end up costing Microsoft billions of dollars. The EU today filed a statement of objections against Microsoft for "non-compliance with browser choice commitments." As the EU describes it, a statement of objections is a formal step in the Commission's investigations, which entails informing the parties involved in writing of the objections raised.

Under EU law, Microsoft could be fined up to 10 percent of its total annual revenue, which means it faces a fine of up to $7.4 billion. The actual fine will likely be less, though Microsoft should expect to be hit with a heavy penalty, considering the EU's track record.