Microsoft Shareholder Sues Company Over EU ‘Browser Choice’ Mistake

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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A lawsuit tries to establish who’s to blame for a “technical error” which led to a £484 million fine

Microsoft is facing a lawsuit from one of its shareholders, who wants to know why the company ignored guidelines set by the European Commission – a mistake which led to it being fined €561 million (£484m).

In 2009, Microsoft was ordered to offer a choice of alternatives to the Internet Explorer web browser in Europe, in an effort to offset its dominance in the browser market caused by the bundling of Internet Explorer with almost every copy of Windows since 1995.

The company agreed, but failed to introduce ‘browser choice’ ballot screen with the first Service Pack for Windows 7. The Commission later claimed that 15 million Windows users in the EU may not have seen the choice screen, and imposed a massive fine. Microsoft blamed the omission on a “technical error”, but never elaborated further.

Broken promises

browser_screen_shotUnder the agreement, the company was expected to offer an automatic ‘ballot screen’ that would let European Windows users choose between 12 different browsers. Microsoft opted for this solution over the unpleasant alternative of removing traces of any browsers from Windows 7 altogether.

The ballot screen was provided as of March 2010 and was supposed to be available at least until 2014.

The European Commission later received information that Microsoft failed to introduce the browser choice screen with the first Service Pack for Windows 7, despite claims to the contrary made in the vendor’s annual report.

Microsoft was subsequently fined £484 million. The company also voluntarily extended the time during which it was going to offer the ‘ballot screen’ by another 15 months.

According to Reuters, the lawsuit against Microsoft was filed in the Western District of Washington by one of its shareholders, Kim Barovic. She accuses the board of directors, including founder Bill Gates and former CEO Steve Ballmer, of negligence, and claims that the internal investigation into the matter didn’t go far enough, failing to find and punish the party responsible for the costly ‘browser choice’ error.

Microsoft denied any wrongdoing in a statement. “Ms. Barovic asked the board to investigate her demand and bring a lawsuit against the board and company executives,” said the company. “The board thoroughly considered her demand as she requested and found no basis for such a suit.”

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