Microsoft and the EU have a long history of legal issues that have come and gone over the past two decades. As Microsoft is the prevailing choice for computing solutions for both the residential and business markets, at times their sheer mass has “border-lined” a monopoly on the computing market. In the 1990s both the United States and EU filed sanctions against Microsoft because of their violation of anti-trust laws which have diminished or simply eliminated competition from the market.
Nearly 15 years ago, Microsoft was under fire because how they handled browser competition. Netscape Navigator, the second choice for an internet browser on a PC console at that time, did not have the same opportunity as Internet Explorer because of the way Microsoft packaged their browser with the Windows OS. Before the issue was resolved, AOL acquired Netscape Communications in 1999. It wasn’t until 2001 that a settlement was reached on behalf of other browser companies, requiring Microsoft to share its browser API with other 3rd party companies. However, this never resolved the fact that Internet Explorer is sole browser packaged with a Windows OS.
The subject of packaging IE with Windows is still a subject at issue for which the EU has fined Microsoft for about $732 million. As of 2009, Microsoft was supposed to include an option where the user could select their browser of choice when setting up Windows. Microsoft has yet to comply and furthermore they “have been unaware” that such a “technical error” existed.
In this day, it seems as though this browser issue shouldn’t be a big deal, yet it is with respect to fair competition in the market. Though setting up a PC, especially one purchased from the shelf at a retail location can be likened to child’s play, so is downloading a different browser. Yes, it is detrimental to competition in some regards, as Microsoft was supposed to include up to 11 different browsers as additional options. A basic user may not realize that there are other options beyond Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Safari.
Though the fine seems hefty, realize that Microsoft brings in upwards of $7 billion a year. A $700 million fine is a drop in the bucket for Microsoft. Facing such a fine is a significant penalty, but it likely will not be enough to deter practices that could lead to future antitrust penalties down the road. As Microsoft now includes Skype, which dominates the VoIP market, as the preferred VoIP app in the Windows 8 OS, it will be interesting to see who first cries out when the realization sets in that this software bundling is stepping on the toes of competition.