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Report: Microsoft to cop it from Brussels in Browser Choice affair

Ballmer's back to feel the licking o' the cat

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Microsoft is reportedly set to be whacked with a Statement of Objections from European Commission competition officials over the software giant's foolish browser-choice gaffe in which users of the Windows OS were steered into using the firm's IE software.

According to Bloomberg, which cited two anonymous sources familiar with the matter, the alleged antitrust breaches could lead to Microsoft being hit with yet more fines. This is even though the company attempted to forestall the damage by apologising for the cockup, which saw EU mandated browser-choice dialogues fail to appear on many Windows PCs sold in Europe in recent times.

The Register contacted competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia's office this morning, only to be told that the EC was not in a position to comment outside of its July statement confirming a probe of Microsoft's browser choice inaction was underway.

Just last week, Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer was said to have agreed to comply with any sanctions laid down by Almunia's office.

The company is being investigated over its supposedly mistaken banishment of the "browser choice" screen, which would have required European customers to pick which surfing tool they wanted to run on their Windows-based machines. A service pack update to Windows 7 omitted the feature, which had been installed as part of a previous Euro competition agreement.

Microsoft said it failed to spot that it was no longer including the browser choice screen for 17 months: the vendor has described the apparent mishap as a "technical error" rather than a deliberate action to push Internet Explorer. The issue is only really relevant in the case of very non-savvy or terminally lazy users, as it is trivially simple to install alternative browsers with or without the EU choice dialogue.

Microsoft was fined €1.68m by the commission in 2009 as part of the competition probe which saw it agree to install the choice tool on machines for sale in Europe. The legally binding agreement remains in force until 2014: MS has recently started delivering the browser choice screen to users of Windows in the EU's 27 member-states once again.

Historically, Internet Explorer was the dominant browser used across the globe. Recently, however, Google's Chrome has begun to play the nudge game with IE for first place and others like Firefox and Opera also have a presence. However Microsoft clearly failed to adhere to its 2009 agreement with the EC, hence the likelihood of further sanctions. ®

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