Microsoft Set to Face Possible EU Fines on Browser Violation

Microsoft Corp. faces possible European Union fines as soon as next month over its failure to comply with a settlement to give users a choice of web browsers.

Regulators are close to a decision which would be “one of the first in 2013,” Joaquin Almunia, the EU’s antitrust chief, told reporters at a European Commission press conference in Brussels today.

The world’s largest software maker was sent EU antitrust objections in October, a preliminary step before being punished for failing to abide by a promise to show a browser-choice screen to users of its Windows operating system. The company was also warned to modify how it presents its Internet Explorer browser in Windows 8 to avert another antitrust clash.

Microsoft has already been fined 1.68 billion euros ($2.23 billion) in EU antitrust probes, including an 899 million-euro penalty for failing to obey an order to share data with competitors. The Redmond, Washington-based company agreed in 2009 to offer access to rival browsers as a part of a settlement to repair its relationship with the bloc’s regulators. It told regulators last December that it was complying with its commitments.

Robin Koch, a spokesman for Microsoft in Brussels, declined to comment on Almunia’s remarks.

Almunia didn’t mention possible penalties, which can be as high as 10 percent of yearly sales for breaching an antitrust settlement.

Internet Explorer

Under the terms of Microsoft’s 2009 pledge, consumers who buy personal computers were given a choice of the 12 most widely used browsers to install in addition to, or instead of, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

The company said in July it only learned that month that it didn’t offer its browser choice software to some 28 million computers running Windows 7 Service Pack 1, or 10 percent of the computers that should have received it. It distributed a software fix to computers that were affected.

Any fines for Microsoft may take into account repeat offenses, Almunia said in July in a reference to the EU’s 2008 penalty for the company’s failure to obey an earlier EU decision. That ruling also ordered it to provide information to software developers to make compatible products.

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