The EU isn't at all happy with Microsoft's (News - Alert) recent actions in its component markets, and following the results of an antitrust case in Europe over 10 years ago, may move to levy fines against the company by the end of this month. The reports come from sources who are "familiar with the matter," who even narrowed down the timeline further, saying that fines would come from the European Commission "before the Easter break."
This particular round of fines, however, stems back to promises made by Microsoft following its original antitrust hearings in Europe. In 2009, Microsoft had promised, according to reports, to offer more of a choice in rival Web browsers on its earlier release of the Windows operating system. This in turn settled an antitrust case that could have cost Microsoft up to 10 percent of its global revenue, which would be a major blow to just about any company's operations.
So far, the Commission has already hit Microsoft with 1.6 billion Euros (around $2.1 billion U.S.) in fines over things like making its media player an integral part of its operating system, not providing data to rivals at fair prices and requiring that software developers make products that specifically work with Microsoft products. More recently, however, the EU's antitrust watchdogs said that a more recent offense in this line took place somewhere in the surprisingly nebulous gap of February 2011 and July 2012, which Microsoft in turn blamed on technical errors.
Microsoft's share of the browser market in Europe, meanwhile, has been tumbling, losing half of its overall market share since 2008. Microsoft now ranks below Google (News - Alert) Chrome, which holds 35 percent, and Mozilla Firefox, which has 29. Microsoft, meanwhile, has 24 percent.
It's hard to imagine the kind of logic that goes into a plan to fine a company for antitrust measures when that company doesn't even hold a quarter of the market. It's also not hard to look at the situation and wonder how much of this is cash-strapped European governments looking to get a new shot of revenue. Still, some of the European Commission's complaints have some sense to them, like the measure that cost Steve Ballmer (News - Alert) a chunk of his annual bonus, requiring Windows to offer a "browser choice screen" that would have given consumers more of a selection in terms of browser operations.
Still, with Google and Mozilla (News - Alert) clearly ahead in market share, the cries of "monopoly" ring somewhat hollow. How can a monopoly have so many competitors, and so many competitors so far ahead in market share? With fines likely to follow, however, it remains to be seen just what kind of impact these charges will have on Microsoft's European operations, and on its overall operations worldwide.
Edited by Brooke Neuman