EU May Probe Microsoft for Tablet Software, Almunia Says

European antitrust regulators may open a new investigation into whether Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) can avoid giving a choice of browsers in a new version of its Windows operating system for tablet computers, the bloc’s competition chief said.

“We will need to look at this,” Joaquin Almunia, the European Union’s competition commissioner, told Bloomberg News following a speech at an antitrust conference in New York today.

Windows RT, the version of the software for tablets and other devices that run on chips designed by ARM Holdings Plc, prohibits any browser except for Internet Explorer, according to a May blog post by Mozilla Corp., maker of the rival Firefox browser. The software is to be introduced Oct. 26.

“We’re confident that our updates to the Windows family of products -- Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone -- will offer customers additional choice in a very competitive market,” Robin Koch, a spokesman for Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, said in an e-mail. “We are working with the commission to answer any questions it may have.”

Microsoft agreed with EU regulators in 2009 to offer a choice of browsers to users running its Windows operating software for five years to settle an antitrust case alleging it unfairly tied Internet Explorer to Windows.

Technical Error

The world’s largest software maker in July offered to extend its commitment until March 2016 after the EU’s antitrust agency said the company failed to comply with the settlement to show the browser screen to some users. The company expressed regret for what it said was a technical error that meant the browser selection wasn’t shown on about 28 million computers.

EU regulators are preparing an antitrust complaint over Microsoft’s failure to comply with the browser-choice requirement under the 2009 settlement agreement, two people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News Sept. 18.

Almunia said a review of the tablet software would be a new matter that would be handled separately from the existing probe, in which Microsoft admitted it had failed to comply.

Microsoft has already been fined 1.68 billion euros ($2.2 billion) in EU antitrust probes, including an 899 million- euro penalty for failing to obey an order to share data with competitors.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sara Forden in New York via sforden@bloomberg.net; Aoife White in Brussels at awhite62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net; Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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