EU steps up antitrust fight with Microsoft over Internet Explorer

MICROSOFT moved closer to a showdown with the EU yesterday when the European Commission’s antitrust chief said it was close to charging the tech giant over its failure to comply with competition law.

Joaquin Almunia, the EU’s competition commissioner, said it would soon lodge formal objections with Microsoft over its failure to offer a choice of web browsers other than its own Internet Explorer software, opening the door for the company to be fined.

“The next step is to open a formal proceeding into the company’s breach of an agreement. We are working on this,” Almunia said.

Microsoft was told to offer a range of browsers on its Windows operating system in 2009, but has failed to do so on millions of computers, according to the EU. Microsoft has put its failure down to a technical glitch related to a software update, and declined to comment yesterday.

An EU spokesperson told City A.M. yesterday that the supposed glitch “is not the point, because what matters is that [Microsoft] has breached the agreement”.

The EU will now make clear its objections to Microsoft, giving it a chance to respond before it levies a fine. The company could face a fine of up to 10 per cent of its global revenues, although this is believed to be unlikely. Chipmaker Intel was handed a €1.06bn (£842m) charge in 2009 over anti-competitive practices – 4.15 per cent of turnover.

Internet Explorer’s market share in Europe has roughly halved since 2008 to 29 per cent this year, as it has lost out to Google’s Chrome.

Chrome controls 29.3 per cent of the market, while Mozilla’s Firefox has 30.3 per cent, according to web research firm Statcounter.