EU Fines Microsoft $732 Million Over Browser Wheel Glitch

Posted on March 7, 2013 9:15 AM by Rob Williams

It’s been almost exactly three years since I last talked about Microsoft’s “Browser Wheel”, and to be honest, I had thought that’d be the last of it. But not so. As it turns out, Microsoft botched part of its Service Pack 1 update for Windows 7 which prevented the pop-up from being displayed to those who just installed a fresh copy. It could have been a simple mistake, or it could have been secretly deliberate – we’ll probably never know. But what we do know is that the error has resulted in mammoth fine: $732 million.

I am having a difficult time coming up with an appropriate word to describe the absurdity of this. $732 million because people using Windows 7 SP1 were not prompted with the choice to install competitive browsers. Below is a picture of the man who announced the fine earlier today. Doesn’t his expression sum things up nicely?

Joaquin Almunia
EU’s Competition Commissioner JoaquĆ­n Almunia

Let’s do the math. According to The New York Times, “Microsoft failed to offer a choice of browsers to more than 15 million European users of the Windows 7 SP1 version.“, which means that this fine amounts to $48.8 per “affected” user.

I could see a fine like this being appropriate if Microsoft had ripped-off its customers, but it didn’t. What it failed to do was point out its competition. I’m of the mind that if you somehow don’t understand the fact that there are browser alternatives out there, chances are good that you simply wouldn’t care anyway. A Web browser is hardly a necessity of life, as this enormous fine would seem to suggest.

Do I again have to mention that Apple does the exact same thing Microsoft has just been fined for, and the EU is leaving it alone? If this isn’t a cash grab, I have no idea what is.

  • e550mercedes

    And to think that it was Google that ratted on Microsoft to the Europeans!

    As far as Apple goes, there are several big differences:

    1) Apple’s OS X doesn’t run on the majority of computers
    2) Safari only runs on Mac’s, and Apple does nothing to stop or discourage users from making Chrome, Opera, Firefox, or others their default browser.
    3) Microsoft agreed, rightfully or wrongly, to rules set by the commission and then broke them for what ever reason?

    That said, you are correct, this is totally absurd!

    • Rob Williams

      1) So you’re saying that the real reason the EU is targeting Microsoft is just because they can get more money out of them? It has nothing to do with principle… just size.

      2) “Safari only runs on Macs” – IE only runs on Windows. “Apple does nothing to stop or discourage users” Neither does Microsoft…

      3) I can agree that Microsoft may have broken the rules on purpose, even though it can’t be proven, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that the rule to begin with bears no logic whatsoever. It’s the EU’s way to earn extra money it NEEDS, I’m confident of that.

      • e550mercedes

        I agree the rules were totally insane to begin with, but unfortunately Microsoft agreed to those insane rules. In other words, MadmatTG is 100% correct when he wrote: “The problem is that M$ is taking it lying down.”

        As to why the EU treats Microsoft differently, that’s an answer that I just don’t know. The same question could be asked why Chrome, in most cases, is the default browser on Android phones.

        • Rob Williams

          Chrome isn’t a default Web browser on Android. If it happens to be pre-installed on a device, that’s due to a vendor decision, much like how companies will bundle software on notebooks and desktop PCs. The default browser is nameless as far as I’m aware, but it’s developed by the Android Open Source Project. Neither my tablet or phone came with Chrome, though the Nexus 7 I’ll be getting soon DOES have it pre-installed (because Google as a vendor decided to put it there).

          I think what Madmat meant by Microsoft “taking it lying down” is that it’s doing nothing to fight this ridiculous ruling. It’s because it knows it won’t win.

          • e550mercedes

            “……much like how companies will bundle software on notebooks and desktop PCs. …….. though the Nexus 7 I’ll be getting soon DOES have it pre-installed (because Google as a vendor decided to put it there).”

            Exactly! Likewise, Apple as a vendor does the same with its own products, such as the iPhone, iPad and the Mac. Even though I believed they bundled Explorer as a default browser before they developed WebKit and Safari.

            As far as the EU goes they are over regulated and I find that they impose the most inane rules and regulations for no other purpose than they can, therefor they do.

          • Rob Williams

            The entire debacle can be summed-up like this:

            Apple bundles Safari with all of its iOS deployments. EU is fine with it.
            Apple bundles Safari with all of its Mac OS X deployments. EU is fine with it.
            Canonical bundles Firefox with all of its Ubuntu deployments. EU is fine with it.
            Microsoft bundles IE with all of its Windows deployments. EU goes ballistic.

            “Apple as a vendor does the same with its own products, such as the iPhone, iPad and the Mac.”

            There are still some differences I don’t think are too clear:

            If someone wants an Android phone and doesn’t want Chrome bundled in, they have a ton of options. If someone wants an iPhone or Mac without Safari built in, their choices are 0. If someone wants a Windows PC without IE built-in, their choices are 0 (now excluding the EU).

            Safari appears in 100% of iOS installations.
            Safari appears in 100% of Mac OS X installations.
            IE appears in 100% of Windows installations.
            Chrome appears in Android installations at the vendor’s discretion.

            Imagine if the EU crafted a law that required all operating systems to include a browser wheel. That includes OS X and all Linux variants. Would that fly? Not likely. Would they even bother? Probably not… a browser is not really THAT important for so much hassle.

            Oh snap.

            Just to be clear, I’m not disagreeing with you. I am just clarifying some things. I think we agree for the most part.

          • Daniel Bethe

            Imagine if anyone but Microsoft had an illegal monopoly.

    • madmatTG

      Apples OS X runs on a minority of computers but their mobile OS, iOS is on the market leader in the mobile arena. Safari is the default in it too.

      That said, I totally agree with Rob, it’s just a way to get money. The problem is that M$ is taking it lying down. What they need to do is boycott the EU for 6 months. Suspend all the software licenses belonging to any EU government (they have the right, read your EULA sometime) and stop selling any software there.

      • Rob Williams

        I didn’t consider the mobile side, good point. iPhone is the most popular phone on the market, and it ships Safari default… and last I checked, you CAN’T set a different default browser. Yet – EU’s fine with leaving them alone. I am not sure if the EU just favors Apple for some reason or what, because you’d imagine they’d like to get a piece of that $140 billion that Apple has sitting in the bank.

        I agree 100% on the latter part. I was thinking about that the other day. If Windows were to simply not exist for in Europe, the EU would just implode. What’s Microsoft have to lose for holding back for six months? The loss sure as hell won’t equal the fine it just received.

        • Daniel Bethe

          Various browsers have existed on iOS for years. However, in the context of this article, that is absolutely moot, because Apple is not an illegal monopoly.

      • Daniel Bethe

        iOS is the market leader, without an illegal monopoly. The *problem* is that Microsoft is an illegal monopoly.

  • Kayden

    Seriously why is it when companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Samsung and etc are being fined or sued it’s near or over the billions now?

  • Jamie Fletcher

    Safari is available on Windows, it’s not exclusive to Apple products at all, in fact, didn’t a bunch of people complain when Apple decided to automatically install Safari and make it the default browser if you had iTunes installed and had auto-updates enabled on Windows? Also, IE can be installed on Macs too.

    Anyway, this whole Microsoft debacle dates back to Windows 98, 2000 and early XP. Back then, Internet Explorer was integrated into Windows at the kernel level, you could not use Windows without IE, nor remove it. It wasn’t until much later that the two became separated again (by which time it had already irked the EU). It was at this time that Microsoft wasn’t making available the APIs and library information for competing browsers (and software in general). Windows had a massive OS monopoly, and there was no real alternative at the time.

    Also, you cannot compare MS and Apple with this. Apple is a hardware company first, software second. It owns the devices that all software is installed on, thus they are free to do whatever they want. Microsoft is a Software company first, and only recently started to move into hardware. Microsoft does not own the device that you install its software on, thus it cannot dictate what you do with that device, thus it cannot prevent another company
    from installing a competing product… which back in the old days, it was doing.

    Now, if Microsoft owned the hardware and prevented competing products from installing competing software, that’s fair game… and what do you know, Microsoft Surface and Windows RT, looks a bit like iOS on an iPad doesn’t it.

    Anyway, I still find the judgement and EU fine silly; the whole thing silly really. I’m not trying to defend anyone here, but just be aware, that this whole thing is from the 90’s and early millennium, so it all seems absurd now.

    • Rob Williams

      Not that it changes anything, but Safari for Windows was discontinued long ago.

      As for that thing with IE being built into Windows… I never understood the reasoning for all of the hatred behind that. It was a part of the OS framework. Unless the main sticking point for people was the fact that it just opened security holes, that I could understand. But I don’t blame Microsoft’s implementation of IE back then. Today it’s a different story, everyone is much smarter about OS design.

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