This week the European Commission fined Microsoft €561 million ($732 million) for failing to live up to a previous legal agreement.
As the New York Times reported it, “the penalty Wednesday stemmed from an antitrust settlement in 2009 that called on Microsoft to give Windows users in Europe a choice of Web browsers, instead of pushing them to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.” The original agreement stipulated that Microsoft would provide PC users a Browser Choice Screen (BCS) that would easily allow them to choose from a multitude of browsers.
Without commenting on the legalities involved (I’m not a lawyer), I think there are at least two interesting dimensions to this case. First, the transgression itself could have been avoided. Microsoft admitted this itself in a statement issued on July 17, 2012: “Due to a technical error, we missed delivering the BCS software to PCs that came with the service pack 1 update to Windows 7.”
The company’s statement went on to say that “while we believed when we filed our most recent compliance report in December 2011 that we were distributing the BCS software to all relevant PCs as required, we learned recently that we’ve missed serving the BCS software to the roughly 28 million PCs running Windows 7 SP1.” Subsequently, today Microsoft took responsibility for the error. Clearly some execution issues around SP1 created a needless violation.
Second, and more interestingly, the browser environment looks very different today than it did in the mid-2000s (when the European Commission pursued its investigations) or in December, 2009 (when the EC and Microsoft reached their legal settlement). According to StatCounter – a web tracking site that samples more than 15 billion page views per month collected from across more than 3 million websites - Microsoft Internet Explorer traffic constituted 51.84% of European browser traffic in December, 2008, but only 24.36% in December, 2012.