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Microsoft blames 'technical error' for browser choice screen mix-up

Almost immediately after EU antitrust regulators announced plans to investigate Microsoft over the possible violation of a 2009 decision ordering it to offer customers a choice in selecting a web browser, the tech giant blamed the problem on a “technical error.”

"We take compliance with our decisions very seriously. And I trusted the company's reports were accurate. But it seems that was not the case, so we have immediately taken action," Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told reporters on 17 July.

"If following our investigation, the infringement is confirmed, Microsoft should expect sanctions," he said, adding that regulators aimed to complete the investigation as quickly as possible.

But only a matter of hours after Almunia’s statement, Microsoft said a technical problem was responsible for preventing 28 million PC users, all running Windows 7 Service Pack 1, from accessing the mandated browser choice screen. The browser option was added following the EU’s 2009 ruling.

“Due to a technical error, we missed delivering the BCS (browser choice screen) software to PCs that came with the service pack 1 update to Windows 7," a company spokesperson said in a statement.

Microsoft has said that its current software is being distributed with the appropriate browser choice option, and has offered to add another 15 months to its compliance period in penance. The company also said that it has recruited a third-party group to investigate the error and that it will turn over the results of that investigation to the European Commission.

The European regulatory body has warned that companies who fail to comply with "legally binding commitments" could face fines of up to 10 per cent of their annual revenue.

In the tablet sphere, other browser developers have said they fear Microsoft will limit browser options in Windows RT, its ARM-compatible version of Windows 8.