Under a 2009 deal with European regulators, Microsoft agreed to give Windows users in Europe a choice of browsers other than Internet Explorer through a ballot-style “choice screen,” giving them a chance to default to Firefox, Safari Chrome, Opera or another browser.

So why has the ballot been missing in Windows 7 since February 2011? And why did Microsoft tell the commission as recently as last December that the ballot was still present?

The European Commission says it’s opening an investigation into the situation. In a statement this morning, European competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said the situation “could have severe consequences” for the company.

Microsoft is conceding that it made a mistake. In a statement today, Microsoft acknowledges that it has “fallen short of our responsibility” under the terms of the settlement. The statement continues …

Due to a technical error, we missed delivering the BCS software to PCs that came with the service pack 1 update to Windows 7. The BCS software has been delivered as it should have been to PCs running the original version of Windows 7, as well as the relevant versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista. However, while we believed when we filed our most recent compliance report in December 2011 that we were distributing the BCS software to all relevant PCs as required, we learned recently that we’ve missed serving the BCS software to the roughly 28 million PCs running Windows 7 SP1.

Microsoft is distributing an update with the browser ballot, retaining outside counsel to investigate the situation, and offering to extend the length of the agreement with the commission for 15 months beyond the original plan.

“We understand that the Commission will review this matter and determine whether this is an appropriate step for Microsoft to take,” the statement says. “We understand that the Commission may decide to impose other sanctions.”

EU regulators can impose fines of up to 10 percent of annual revenue, or about $7 billion based on Microsoft’s fiscal 2011.

Here are the full statements from Microsoft and the commission.

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  • guest

    Absolutely ridiculous. Ballmer has to go.

    • john

      Ya, but the most corrupt and evil regulatory body of all time has got to stay.

      • guest

        No, they suck too. But this is a major mistake. MS is legally obligated to comply and the potential penalties for failure are severe. They have hundreds of lawyers/compliance people and thousands more inside the Windows group and on the ground in Europe. This should never have happened or MS itself should have been first to identify and correct it.

        How many more serious business and legal failures are going to occur on Ballmer’s shift before he’s finally held accountable?

    • MistakesWereMade

      At the very least SOMEONE needs to step up and take responsibility for this. If no one else will then it falls to Ballmer.

      When you read the statement there’s a glaring tone of “mistakes were made” to it. There’s no names, there’s no indication that some ONE is in charge and responsible.

      Which is why this happened in the first place I suspect. Everyone assumed that someone else was taking care of this and focusing on their little bit only and not worrying about the big picture (“Oh, look, I’ve made “File, Save As” in Notepad look prettier!).

      Say what you will, but in the Gates/Allchin days, you knew how was responsible for the company and for Windows. Now no one is accountable because no one has real responsibility.

  • Leo

    Europe, your continent is burning. Please stop trying to prop up Firefox and Chrome (which are doing just fine in the good old U.S. of A. without government-mandated dialog boxes) and focus on fixing your continent’s other major problems.

    For all of Europe’s complaints about Microsoft, you would have thought some European software company would have come up with a more acceptable OS than Windows by now. Apparently government regulators consider themselves to be better program managers than Microsofties are.

  • John W Baxter

    So everyone in European Microsoft entities who saw the lack of the ballot screen in Win 7 SP 1 fresh installs thought something like “Oh, good, we negotiated that stupid ballot requirement away.”

    Also, does Microsoft sell Signature machines in Europe? If so, do they have the ballot screen as part of the out-of-box experience? (They had better.)

    • guest

      Yeah, that’s the part I find amazing. You have MS employees, OEMs, partners, etc, and not one thought “OMG, isn’t that stupid ballot box missing in SP1 and isn’t that kind of like a big deal, at least legally?”.

  • guest

    EU’s going to spank MS pretty hard over this. MS blew it off, and now it’s time for some payback.

  • Guest

    Did the author forget which company he’s writing about? This is Microsoft. When you have as much money as they do, no one on the planet has the power to impose ‘severe’ consequences on you. This is a wristslap at best to them, and the EU had better be grateful that Microsoft appears to be in a mood to humor them.

    • http://profiles.google.com/ee2718 admin 1

      I have news for you my friend. Microsoft may very well control the US government and the US DOJ, but it doesn’t control the EU or the EU justice system as it is finding to its cost.

      • Jan

        Even the EU doesn’t control the EU. Righteous indignation is not a viable means of government.

        • http://profiles.google.com/ee2718 admin 1

          Well, having a foreign company control the EU and buy off the EU legal system as Microsoft appears to do in the US (and as the parent poster implies) certainly isn’t a viable means of government.

          • guest

            Educate yourself before mouthing off. The US government had most of their case thrown out. They settled for what they could get, as any other government regulator would. See, in the US, regulators actually have to justify their cases in front of higher courts, not just get them rubber-stamped like in the EU.

      • guest

        MS controls the US Government and the DOJ? Wrap that tinfoil around your head a little tighter, okay?

  • Dirk

    If they look for inspiration for other sanctions, may I suggest:
    – the same price for OEM and other windows versions so people can evaluate alternatives without being punished.
    – Make OEM’s offer the the same hardware with and without Windows. So making the price of Windows visible and offering chose.
    – A possibility to stop the licence after two months with money returned from Microsoft itself that should make arrangements with the OEM’s to get their profit on the software back. Or, like for other software, a test version to be paid if the user accept it after trying.

  • http://twitter.com/puckyourself Joe McGrath

    Bad time to screw up when the EU is desperately looking for ways to tax through fines. EU doesn’t actually care about competition, more just desperate for any cash. Either that, or they truly believe the citizens within the EU are the stupidest people on the planet when it comes to the plethora of free web browsers.

  • notoneofsusansaliases

    MS has become an embarrassment under Ballmer. Last week was the $6 billion aQuantive write-off. This week you have this EU compliance lapse, which should never have occurred or else been caught by the company long before a government regulator noticed. Each time, MS’s reputation falls another notch or two. And they’ll end the week with a financial report that will be terrible on its own, and then turned into their first even quarterly loss courtesy of the write-off above.

    Fire Ballmer. FIre the board. Start over.

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