Microsoft (News - Alert) was hit with a $733-million fine today, handed down by the European Union for failing to offer Windows users with a choice of Internet browsers to install when they install the operating system. While Microsoft is no stranger to fines of this nature, this is a first for the EU's executive arm, the European Commission, as no company has failed to comply with EU authorities before.
What's interesting is that Microsoft had plenty of time to comply — since 2009, in fact. At that time, the Commission ordered the company to extend browser choices rather than providing access exclusively to Internet Explorer on fresh Windows installs.
At that time, Microsoft agreed to pay a fine amounting to around $1.1 billion and promised to give Windows users the option of choosing a browser other than IE.
"In 2009, we closed our investigation about a suspected abuse of dominant position by Microsoft due to the tying of Internet Explorer to Windows by accepting commitments offered by the company," said the European Union's antitrust commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, in a statement. "Legally binding commitments reached in antitrust decisions play a very important role in our enforcement policy because they allow for rapid solutions to competition problems. Of course, such decisions require strict compliance. A failure to comply is a very serious infringement that must be sanctioned accordingly."
Almunia went on to add that the fine given to Microsoft today reflects both the size of the violation and the length of time it went on for. The Commission also sought to make an example of Microsoft in order to deter other companies from noncompliance.
Since 1998, Microsoft has paid $2.86 billion in fines to the European Commission, when investigations were first opened into the company after Sun Microsystems (News - Alert) alleged it was denied access to technical documents. In 2008, Microsoft was fined about $1.17 billion for failing to provide details to allow other companies' products to interoperate with its own.
The company sought to have the fine reduced in 2011.