Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy
Statement at the Midday press briefing on Commission's Statement of Objections sent to Microsoft
Press room / Brussels
24 October 2012
I would like to announce that, following the opening of proceedings last July, I have sent today a Statement of Objections to Microsoft.
Following our investigation, we have reached the preliminary conclusion that Microsoft has breached its commitments to provide Windows users with a choice screen between internet browsers.
As you may recall, the Commission had expressed concerns about the tying of Microsoft's browser, Internet Explorer, to Windows, the dominant client PC operating system. In response, Microsoft proposed commitments and in December 2009 the Commission made them legally binding for a period of 5 years – until 2014.
Microsoft had to display a screen enabling all Windows users to easily choose their preferred web browser. This gave consumers a real choice to use the product that best suited their needs.
However, when Microsoft launched Windows 7 Service Pack 1 in February 2011, the choice screen was no longer displayed. Microsoft has acknowledged this. This means that those users have not seen the choice screen in the period from February 2011 to July 2012.
Let me restate a basic principle of our competition rules: if companies enter into commitments, they must do what they have committed to do or face the consequences.
Commitments are, in general, a good way to solve antitrust concerns swiftly. They avoid lengthy proceedings and enable the Commission to obtain concrete results for consumers, while the company is not held liable for an infringement.
But this only works if the commitments are scrupulously complied with. Therefore, companies should be deterred from any temptation to renege on their promises or even to neglect their duties. This is why, when this happens, the Commission has the power to impose fines.
Before the Commission takes any final decision, I will of course listen to what Microsoft has to say. The rights of defence will be fully respected. So I will not prejudge our decision today.
Microsoft now has 4 weeks to respond to the Statement of Objections and it can request an Oral Hearing to spell out its arguments.
We have sent our objections about the past. But let me also stress that Microsoft is still required to comply with the commitments.
In this respect, it is important that the Browser Choice Screen mechanism operates in a way that does not disadvantage the use of rival browsers. Based on our own monitoring, we have raised issues to Microsoft relating to Windows 8, which is to be released soon. If a user decides to set a rival browser as the default browser, there should not be unnecessary warning windows or confirmations by the user, and the Internet Explorer icon should also be unpinned from the Start screen. We expect Microsoft to address these issues.
In addition, third parties have been raising various issues about other aspects of Microsoft's compliance. We have carefully looked at them during this investigation and we do not see grounds, at this point, for further intervention.
However, needless to say, we will remain vigilant and we will continue to monitor all aspects of Microsoft's compliance with its commitments in the future.