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?
EU’s Competition Commissioner Joaquín 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.