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'Browser ballot' glitch could land Microsoft EU fine

European regulators could slap Microsoft with a fine over its "browser ballot" mishap by the month's end, according to a new report.

Citing three people familiar with the matter, Reuters said the fine could be handed down before Easter, which falls on 31 March this year. Of course "procedural issues" could push that back, those sources warned.

The controversy dates back to 2009, when the European Commission announced that Microsoft violated European competition law by bundling its Internet Explorer browser with Windows. As a result, Microsoft said it would ship a version of Windows 7 with a "browser ballot" that would allow users to select which browser they wanted during the OS installation process. The EU approved that plan in December 2009 and it started rolling out two months later.

Last year, however, the commission notified Microsoft that it had received reports of people not seeing the browser screen choice (BCS). Microsoft said it investigated and discovered that users of Windows 7 service pack 1 were not seeing the browser ballot due to a technical error. A fix started rolling out to PCs running Windows 7 SP1 in early July.

But the EU opened an investigation, and by October, regulators sent Microsoft a formal statement of objections.

"A statement of objections is a formal step in Commission investigations," the EU said at the time. "The Commission informs the parties concerned in writing of the objections raised against them and the parties can reply in writing and request an oral hearing to present comments."

Ultimately, Microsoft could be fined up to 10 per cent of its total annual turnover.

According to February stats from Net Applications (below), IE is still the dominant browser worldwide, with 55.82 per cent market share. For the past year, it has held steady in the 54-55 per cent range. Mozilla's Firefox is in second place with 20.12 per cent, followed by Google's Chrome at 16.27 per cent, and Safari with 5.42 per cent.