Facing a Massive Antitrust Fine, Microsoft Agrees to Play Ball with European Union

Microsoft is hoping its decision to give consumers a choice of which Internet browser they use in Windows 8 will stop the European Union from inflicting a $5.7 billion euro penalty for alleged antitrust activity.

Say what?

Here’s the issue. Until a few years ago, Microsoft only included its own Internet Explorer web browser in new copies of the Windows operating system. However, third-party browser developers — like Mozilla (Firefox), Opera, Google (Chrome), and others — thought that looked a lot like anti-competitive behaviour. They complained to the European Union, which forced Microsoft to include a “browser ballot” in Windows 7.

The browser ballot is basically a voting screen that allows Windows users to choose the Internet browser they want to employ. Users see the ballot when they first load up a new copy of Windows and click on the browser they prefer.

In Windows 7, users could pick from twelve different browsers, though only five appeared straight away. You had to scroll to see the other seven.

Unfortunately, the ballot didn’t work properly for everyone. Sometimes the browsers didn’t randomize properly. Sometimes the ballot simply didn’t appear at all, as was the case with the 28 million copies of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1).

That caused the European Union to resume investigations into Microsoft antitrust abuse.

To help prevent a massive, $5.7 billion fine from being handed down, Microsoft has reportedly put the browser ballot into Windows 8. Those people using European test copies of the operating system should see the ballot appear soon.

Will it work? Who knows. But it will certainly make European Windows users aware that Internet Explorer isn’t the only web browser out there.

Microsoft hasn’t yet commented on the connection between the EU investigation and the Windows 8 browser ballot announcement.

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