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Microsoft to comply with Brussels over browser choice gaffe

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Microsoft has reportedly agreed to comply with any sanctions laid down by competition officials in Brussels, who are currently probing the software giant's allegedly mistaken banishment of a "browser choice" screen, which would have allowed European customers to pick which browser they wanted to run on their Windows-based machines.

The EU's competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia told Reuters at an economic conference in Italy that he had met with Redmond's boss to discuss the issue, which MS labelled as a "technical error" that it had failed to spot for 17 months.

"In my personal talks with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer he has given me assurances that they will comply immediately regardless of the conclusion of the antitrust probe," said Almunia, who added that Ballmer had agreed that the apparent cockup was a "very, very serious issue."

In July this year, the EC opened a fresh investigation into Microsoft's practice of using its Windows operating system to push people into using its Internet Explorer browser, following allegations of non-compliance with an EC settlement deal the software giant agreed to in late 2009.

Under that legally binding agreement, Microsoft was supposed to display a choice screen to its European Windows customers allowing them to pick between IE, Firefox, Chrome and other browsers on the market until 2014.

However, in February 2011 – when Microsoft issued a first service pack for its Windows 7 operating system – the choice screen had vanished. Redmond, however, said it had only recently discovered - courtesy of the European Commission - that it had stopped offering European punters a selection of browsers.

Microsoft recently began offering the browser choice screen to users of Windows in the EU's 27 member-states once again. The settlement deal with Brussels remains in force.

It's not yet clear what punishment Almunia will dish out to Microsoft, but he has previously indicated "severe consequences" if a breach is confirmed by competition officials. ®

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