The European Commission says it's opening an investigation into whether Microsoft has kept the antitrust commitments it made in 2009. The dispute is over providing a screen letting users of Microsoft's Windows operating systems select a browser other than Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
Microsoft says that because of a technical error, it had “fallen short” of meeting its obligation. The company says it's investigating what went wrong and has agreed to extend how long it must provide that screen.
EU officials warned that penalties for non-compliance would be “severe.”
The development comes just weeks after a European appeals court upheld most of a massive penalty levied against Microsoft Corp., which at the time ended the company's 14-year legal struggle with the continent's competition regulators.
EU Antitrust raising hell for MS
The initial EU probe was triggered by a 1998 complaint that Microsoft wouldn't give Sun Microsystems some technical information needed for Sun's server software to communicate with Microsoft's Windows desktop operating system. The EU looked more broadly into whether Microsoft had abused its near-monopoly over Windows to corner other markets, including server software, internet browsers and streaming media software.
Here's how the case developed:
- March 24, 2004: The European Commission finds Microsoft guilty. It fines the company (EURO)497 million ($613 million). It also orders Microsoft to share technical documents with rivals and market a version of Windows without a media player.
- June 15, 2005: After losing an appeal, Microsoft makes Windows XP N – without Media Player – available. There are few takers. The same month, EU also raises concerns about usability of Microsoft's technical documents.
- July 12, 2006: EU decides Microsoft isn't obeying the 2004 decision and penalizes it an additional (EURO)280.5 million ($357 million).
- March 1, 2007: EU threatens Microsoft with even more penalties as it accuses the company of further noncompliance by setting royalty fees too high for technical documents.
- Oct. 22: Microsoft agrees to slash fees for the technical documents. It also offers access to open source developers and others for a one-time fee of (EURO)10,000. Though this resolves key parts of the dispute, the EU says Microsoft is still subject to penalties for noncompliance until then.
- Jan. 14, 2008: Following a complaint by Web browser developer Opera Software ASA, the EU announces it is investigating Microsoft again. This time, it's on suspicion of abusing its market position by squeezing out other Internet browsers and software rivals dependent on Microsoft programs.
- Feb. 27: EU regulators impose a (EURO)899 million penalty ($1.3 billion) – a record at the time – for failing to fully comply with the 2004 antitrust order. This is on top of the fine imposed in 2004 and the penalty of 2006 and brings the total to nearly (EURO)1.7 billion.
- May 9: Microsoft announces it has appealed the penalty.
- Jan. 16, 2009: The European Commission orders Microsoft to untie its Internet Explorer browser from Windows.
- July 24: Microsoft agrees to offer a choice of rival Web browsers on Windows to ward off new European Union antitrust fines.
- Dec. 16: The European Union drops the browser case after Microsoft after the company agrees to give Windows users in Europe a choice of up to 12 other Web browsers. This ends all of the EU's active cases against Microsoft, though the appeal of the 2008 fine remains pending.
- June 27: The General Court of the European Union rejects Microsoft's appeal of the 2008 penalty, but reduces it to (EURO)860 million.
- Tuesday: The European Commission says it's opening an investigation into whether Microsoft has kept its commitments to offer browser choices. It warns that penalties for non-compliance would be “severe.” Microsoft admits that because of a technical error, it had “fallen short” of meeting its obligation with the Service Pack 1 update to Windows 7.