Microsoft has just been issued a rather substantial slap on the wrist for their failure to fully comply with their commitment to provide all European Union users with a choice of web browsers. They will have to pay 561 million euros (or $731 million) for their mistake.
That is a huge price to pay, but things could have been much worse. According to various reports, the maximum fee that they could have incurred for this sort of behavior was right around $7.4 billion.
There was some question of which way things would go here, since the case had no clear precedent. Microsoft did a lot to contain the damage by admitting to their error and providing detailed information about everything leading up to it for the investigation. They chose to publicly apologize for the oversight and reportedly take full responsibility for the failure.
All of this dates back to the decision that Microsoft’s usual practice of bundling Internet Explorer as an integral part of Windows was potentially anticompetitive. A 2007 complaint by Opera spurred the EU to open the case and ever since 2010 there has been a convenient browser selection popup on every EU user’s Windows installation when they first log on.
Since Microsoft committed to keep this selection screen in their product through at least 2014, the fact that it was not part of Windows 7 SP1 was a shock to many. They have declared it to be a mistake, but the damage was already done. It probably didn’t help much that they took over a year to fix the problem, of course.
None of this will really have an impact on the success or failure of any of the projects that are in the works right now. Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 have not been part of the problem. It might be best to view this as a deterrent.
Since the EU Commission was trying to set a precedent using the first major infringement thus far, the size of the fine works to keep the door open if there are problems later. They did just charge almost three quarters of a billion dollars for a violation, but they also restricted the fine to one percent of the company’s annual revenue. There are options.