On 24 October 2012, the European Commission informed Microsoft of its preliminary view that Microsoft has failed to comply with its commitments to offer users a choice screen enabling them to easily choose their preferred web browser.
In December 2009, the Commission had imposed on Microsoft legally binding commitments offered by the company to address competition concerns resulting from the tying of Internet Explorer (Microsoft's web browser) to Windows (Microsoft’s PC operating system).
Specifically, Microsoft committed to make available for five years (i.e. until 2014) a so-called "choice screen" enabling users of Windows to choose which web browser(s) they wanted to install in addition to, or instead of, Microsoft's web browser. The choice screen was provided as of March 2010 to European Windows users who have Internet Explorer set as their default web browser.
In its statement of objections, the Commission takes the preliminary view that, from February 2011 until July 2012, millions of Windows users in the EU may not have seen the choice screen enabling them to choose the browser they wish to use. Microsoft has apparently acknowledged that the choice screen was not displayed during that period because of a technical fault.
The sending of a statement of objections does not prejudge the final outcome of the investigation. The parties are now entitled to reply in writing and request an oral hearing to present comments on the statement of objections. The Commission will then issue a final decision.
The next steps of this case should be followed closely as the antitrust regulations provide that a breach of binding commitments may result in a fine of up to 10% of the company’s total annual turnover.
To avoid a fine, Microsoft will thus have to convince the Commission that the temporary unavailability of choice screen was “force majeure” and reassure it of its intention to use its best efforts to comply with the 2009 commitments.