Microsoft muffs up browser choices for Windows 7 users, Europe isn't happy

Filed Under: Apple Safari, Featured, Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Law & order, Microsoft

Two and a half years ago, Europe's Competition Commission held Microsoft's monopolistic feet to the fire, forcing the company to offer its European Internet Explorer users the choice of using a non-IE browser.

Browser choice screen

As it turns out, some 28 million PCs were not offered any choice at all. Whoops.

Microsoft has confessed to an engineering error that kept Windows 7 users oblivious to there being any option other than Internet Explorer.

After users complained that they weren't getting prompted to pick from IE, Chrome, Safari, Opera and Firefox as Microsoft had promised, the European Commission on Tuesday reopened its investigation into antitrust behaviors around browser bundling in Windows.

Microsoft was supposed to offer the browser-option screen when it issued the Windows 7 Service Pack 1 update at the beginning of 2011.

It reportedly did not, the European Commission said in a statement.

The Commission evidently isn't taking Microsoft's word for it when it comes to this failure being inadvertent.

Here's some choice words on the matter from Joaquín Almunia, Vice President of the Commission in charge of competition policy:

"We take compliance with our decisions very seriously. And I trusted the company's reports were accurate. But it seems that was not the case, so we have immediately taken action. If following our investigation, the infringement is confirmed, Microsoft should expect sanctions."

BrowsersHow seriously does the EC take its decisions? How about 10% of Microsoft's annual turnover serious? That's what the EC says it could fine a company that it finds has breached legally binding commitments.

It's unknown just what the EC deems to be Microsoft’s annual turnover (total revenue or profits).

But as The Next Web calculated, if one goes by current revenue rate, that sanction could total up to $7 billion.

Reuters reported that Microsoft is blaming a technical glitch for its failure to comply with the Commission's orders.

Here's Microsoft's statement:

"Due to a technical error, we missed delivering the BCS (browser choice screen) software to PCs that came with the service pack 1 update to Windows 7. While we have taken immediate steps to remedy this problem, we deeply regret that this error occurred and we apologise for it."

Reuters reported that Microsoft says it's now distributing software with the browser option and has offered to extend the compliance period for an additional 15 months.

Fingers crossed, Windows 7 users will soon be asked to choose which browser they would like to run from the following list (in no particular order):

If anything else shows up in the option list for Windows 7, there are two possible explanations: cybercrooks have hacked the browser choice window, or Microsoft goofed yet again.

Assuming Microsoft will get it right this time, keep it patched and updated, regardless of which browser you choose.

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29 Responses to Microsoft muffs up browser choices for Windows 7 users, Europe isn't happy

  1. Greg · 1179 days ago

    A computer user was never limited to which browser he/she could use. The user could download and use any browser at any time he/she wanted. The user has a responsibility to understand computers and the options they could pick

    • ElFantin · 1012 days ago

      There are hundreds of things a well informed person would never do (betting, smoking, borrowing money from loan sharks, you name it). Laws exist also to protect and inform people. This is one of them. If we have regulations to prevent monopolistic practice in all commercial ventures, why not software as well?

  2. J,b, · 1179 days ago

    gee do some research on how secure these other browsers are except for chrome and why would you want to run anything else as they are very unsecure browsers! also look at the fact that IE9 runs so smoothly and so efficiently.

    • Security Expert · 1179 days ago

      You're kidding, right? I wouldn't touch IE with a shielded cable!

      Firefox + adblock + ghostery + noscript + https everywhere is the most secure browser you can run, period.

      • KeiFeR123 · 1176 days ago

        Security Expert, i used firefox with exactly those add-ons you mentioned. Pretty good eh?

    • Marc · 1178 days ago

      You work for Microsoft right? No one else in their right mind would say such rubbish. IE9 on Vista doesn't even work on my PC.

      • Brian · 1177 days ago

        I disabled IE9 on my machine. I wish you could uninstall it. Then I would be truly satisfied.

  3. Scotiaman · 1179 days ago

    The best thing Microsoft could do is to tell the eu to go and take a long walk off a short plank ! I think most people who have a PC or laptop do not need a political organisation such as the eu to force a company to give us a choice, this is quite simply state interference aka communism !

  4. StG · 1179 days ago

    I honestly do not understand why Microsoft should have to advertise the competitions products. Anyone with half an ounce of computer know how can make their own decision regarding how they view the internet. IE may not be the best or the most secure but in the grand scheme of things it is no better or worse than any of the other browsers on that list. Why force Microsoft to pay for the users incompetence or lazyness.

    • ElFantin · 1012 days ago

      Because MS is abusing its position of power to impose their browser. Unfortunately, most computer users don't have that half gram of computer know-how to make an informed decision, hence it is right to make sure they are informed (but of course most will simply and lazily not make any choice and stick to a "normal" browser). Maybe you know little about internet technology: if you had written web sites as I have (you know, HTML, CSS, PHP, that sort of stuff), you'd know IE has always been a huge pain the in the neck for us. I'm told that IE9 is much better (don't know first hand as I haven't coded web pages for a couple of years now). If people had not been given IE without a choice for the past 10 years, if they had been informed early on, IE would not have been used almost at all.

  5. Jordan · 1179 days ago

    I'm sure having IE as the only option was a mistake....*cough cough*

  6. Brian · 1179 days ago

    One would think that if you were passionate and knowledgeable enough to care about what browser you want to use you would know how to download it....

  7. cf. · 1179 days ago

    Google Chrome is now offered with all the junk freebie programs lol

  8. doctor_worm · 1179 days ago

    What a scam by European regulators. They're just trying to fill their coffers with money they don't deserve. Only a moron wouldn't be able to figure out that there are several alternatives to Internet Explorer available for download.

    This makes Europeans look like idiots.

  9. MikeW · 1179 days ago

    Does Apple have to do the same?

  10. Bam · 1179 days ago

    I will not claim to know everything about anti-trust laws, but I don't really need to. The bottom line is that Windows is a product that Microsoft can load anything they want onto. If you want another browser, you'll just have to suck it up and use IE for 5 minutes while you download another browser. Boohoo. Remove the IE icon from your desktop etc etc, bam, you're done with it. If Microsoft wanted to load CRM as the only Customer Relations tool, who is the EC to tell them they can't. If they want to load notepad as the only text editor, who is the EC to tell them they can't. If they want to load Computer Management as the only disk management get the point. Microsoft should tell the EC to F off and pull all support for EU countries. See how long it would take for business lobbyists to be all up in their face telling them to back off. If they can't do that, they could simply not pay the sanctioned fines. Then what. The EC wouldn't allow their products in the EU? Right... What a bunch of power hungry elitists showing how much government entities can control businesses.

    • njorl · 1178 days ago

      The EEC ruling did seem a little bizarre, to me at the time.

      However, I believe it's widely accepted that Internet browser competition is in the public interest (not for reasons of price control but for promoting malware resistance).

      If a producer, who dominates the market for one type of product, exploits his position to drive dominance of his version of a different type of product, this is clearly detrimental to competition.

      With this analysis, I - despite a general loathing of big government - believe the ruling was right.

      The point is not that installing a rival browser is difficult (it isn't) but that if you give people Internet Explorer, which broadly does what they want - or at least what they think they want, from Day 0, very few of them will take the trouble to replace it with something else, hence stifling competition.

      • bam · 1178 days ago

        I see your point, but respectfully disagree with that approach. I believe the only things that deserve monopolies are the only ones allowed; gas, water, electric etc for obvious reasons. Otherwise, let the market determine the outcome. In most cases, when the gov believes someone is dominating the market, they give advantages to competitors, not forcing a company to do something with their product to curtail their market share (gov may also not allow the purchase of smaller companies in the same market that may lead to monopolies; a good thing). Firefox became popular amongst the general public without this ruling, while chrome, i believe, is now the market leader in browsers mainly because its security controls and other cool stuff you can do vs. IE. You can incentivise market continuity as a gov entity, but not inject gov regulations at such a fundamental level like this; IMHO. Although I disagree with you, I appreciate the insightful conversation.

  11. Phil Wade · 1179 days ago

    People tend to forget that Micro$oft went all out to "kill" Netscape - that's now returned as Firefox and is in many respects better than IE. If someone gets a computer, it's probably got Windoze pre-installed with IE. Many people DON'T know about alternative browsers (but not people reading this site obviously) but once they've seen the "competition" very few ever use IE again.
    As for the "communism" quote, that's got to be from the USA. Anyone with any political knowledge would know better.

    • R. Daneel Olivaw · 1179 days ago

      > As for the "communism" quote, that's got to be from the USA. Anyone with any political knowledge would know better. <

      Right. Anyone with any sense at all would know that what he really should have said is that it's national socialism. Apparently, those who live in the EU didn't get enough of it back in the 1933-1945 period.

      Nonetheless...Marxism by any other name is still Marxism. Its different flavors vary only in the nakedness of their coercion, and the ratio between force and fraud. In the case of the EU, it's heavier on the fraud.

      Sadly, the Americans aren't far behind in their desperate clamoring for "More Government!" As their own Will Rogers once said, "Just be thankful you don't get all the government you pay for."

      • Phil Wade · 1178 days ago

        National Socialists murdered thousands of Marxists who opposed them in Germany, plus many just loosely on "the left". Nazism is on the far right, not left.
        Micro$oft CEO Steve Ballmer said Linux is communism (July 2000).
        I use Windows because most of my customers have machines where it came pre-installed, but I much prefer Linux for my own use. When I retire I won't use Windows any more.
        I don't really think I'm replying to an Asimov inspired robot, but nice name matey.

  12. Security Expert · 1179 days ago

    Apple didn't break the law by forcing/tricking users into using its browser, so no, it does not.

  13. Jens2 · 1179 days ago

    As apposed to the assumption cybercrooks might be to blame, there is a third and very simple explanation why people see more than 5 browser choices in their "browser choice screen": They might be able to use what is called a "scrollbar" (as seen on the bottom of the above screenshot).

    It seems the author of this blog post has not realized that the "browser choice screen" contains not only the five popular browsers, but also five other, less popular browsers, e.g. K-Meleon, on the second half of the screen. That's not by accident, that's not malware, that is intended to be this way.

    • njorl · 1178 days ago

      Thanks, and I hope you're right.

      Whilst reading down to your comment, I was quietly panicking because I was certain I'd seen some non-mainstream browsers on my Vista "browser choice" pop-up, way back.

      More FUD from the anti-malware pushers?

  14. Link · 1179 days ago

    Don't use Windows, don't use IE...
    Google Chrome + Linux ftw!!

  15. John Baxter · 1178 days ago

    I'll accept "technical error." I have trouble with every Microsoft employee who commissioned a new machine over 15 months thinking "Oh, good. We must have negotiated that stupid ballot screen away."

  16. Seriously? It took TWO AND HALF YEARS? And 28 MILLION installations to realise?

    If it took that long to realise doesn't it tell you no one really cares about this "issue"?

    Even the other browser producers didn't notice!!!

  17. teejuu · 1178 days ago

    How about forcing Apple to give iPad users a choice over whether they want to use Safari?

  18. JG444 · 1176 days ago

    Yes, and letting Ipad users access their device without having to use Itunes. That is one reason I don't use Apple.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.