Browser Ballot Fail: Microsoft Receives Huge Fine

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft's failure to offer European Windows users a clear choice of Internet browser has proven very costly. The European Union has fined the company a shocking 561 million euros, equivalent to US $732.2 million.

Microsoft had agreed to provide new Window users with a browser choice screen (or "browser ballot" as it was popularly known).

The deal was designed to settle claims that Microsoft's own browser, Internet Explorer, had an unfair advantage over other browsers because it came pre-installed on all Windows machines. Under the agreement, Microsoft began adding the choice screen during Windows set-up.

Windows Users Must Actively Choose A Web Browser

The screen shows the five most popular browsers in random order, with the next seven most popular browsers available to users who scrolled along a menu. The company behind each browser supplied a logo and a brief description of the features their browser offered.

Users could select one or more browsers to be downloaded and installed. The idea is that less tech-savvy users would have to actively think about their browser choice rather than stick with Internet Explorer.

Under the terms of the deal, Microsoft committed to using the screen in all new installations of Windows between 2009 and 2014. However, it later emerged that between February 2011 and July 2012 the browser screen wasn't present.

Microsoft says this was a blunder rather than a deliberate ploy. It appears the mistake came with the first Service Pack update for Windows 7. Microsoft didn't include the choice screen in the Service Pack, figuring people who downloaded it would already have installed Windows.

Service Pack Mix-Up Breaches Browser Screen Deal

However, Microsoft overlooked the fact that many PC manufacturers automatically apply Service Packs to Windows software installed on a computer before selling it. This meant that around 28 million machines shipped without the choice screen. (Source:

Microsoft had already shown it took the mistake seriously, cutting chief executive Steve Ballmer's bonus by 50 per cent as a punishment. However, that wasn't enough for the European Union, which recently imposed the $732.2 million fine.

It's hoped the penalty will deter other companies from breaking similar agreements. It seems the EU wants to make the point that such agreements are just as legally binding as a court ruling. (Source:

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