EU to fine Microsoft over browser ballot fiasco, says report

Reuters pegs March announcement of penalties for screw-up

European antitrust regulators will slap Microsoft with a fine before the end of March for failing to offer customers a browser choice screen, according to a report today by the Reuters news service.

Citing several unnamed sources "familiar with the matter," Reuters said that the European Commission, the EU's antitrust arm, would level a fine "before the Easter break."

Easter is March 31 this year.

Reuters did not name the amount of the likely fine, but said it could be significant.

Microsoft declined to comment on the Reuters report, and instead pointed to previous statements it made in July and October 2012 in response to commission actions.

In July, the commission announced a new investigation of Microsoft -- which was slammed the decade prior with fines totaling $2.5 billion -- over the American company's failure to offer European consumers a choice of browsers, as was required by a 2009 settlement.

Microsoft immediately apologized, saying the omission of the browser choice screen in Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) was a "technical error" and admitting that it had not shown the browser ballot to users during a year-and-a-half span from February 2011 to early July 2012.

Last October, the commission filed formal charges against Microsoft as Joaquin Almunia, the EU's top antitrust official, talked tough about fines. "Companies should be deterred from any temptation to renege on their promises or even to neglect their duties," Almunia said during an October news conference.

While it's unlikely that the commission will impose the maximum fine -- under the law that could reach nearly $9 billion -- last summer Almunia noted that Microsoft's non-compliance was unprecedented and used the phrase "severe consequences" when talking about possible actions by his agency.

Commission spokesman Antoine Colombani did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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