The European Union and Microsoft have an icy relationship. The EU's business regulatory arm, the European Commission, has fined Microsoft almost $2B USD over the past decade. It is currently hounding Microsoft with allegations that it engaged in impropriety, bundling its own browser -- Internet Explorer -- with Windows.
A number of third party browsers -- including Opera, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari -- can run in Windows. However, only Internet Explorer comes preinstalled with Windows. The third-party developers claim that this bundling is anticompetitive.
The EC had officially charged Microsoft with "[harming] competition between Web browsers, undermines product innovation, and ultimately [reducing] consumer choice" via bundling IE with Windows. It had scheduled a closed doors oral hearing June 3-5 in Brussels, Belgium to allow Microsoft the chance to speak its piece.
Instead, Microsoft has rejected the opportunity to show, insisting it has nothing to worry about. It says it has a sufficient option bundled with Windows 7 that will kill Internet Explorer 8, allowing other programs to be used exclusively (DailyTech verified this -- Windows 7 users go to "Uninstall a Program", then "Turn Windows features on or off" and finally check to remove IE 8). However, this option does not automatically install competitors browsers, it is not presented in the installation of Windows 7 (or at first login), and third-party browsers are not bundled with Windows as the EU hoped.
Microsoft insists the snub of the EC's hearing is unintentional -- it says it can't make it because it has to attend the Zurich, Switzerland, meeting of the International Competition Network -- which it calls "the most important worldwide intergovernmental competition law meeting." Dave Heiner, VP and deputy general counsel for Microsoft states, "As a result, it appears that many of the most influential commission and national competition officials with the greatest interest in our case will be in Zurich and so unable to attend our hearing in Brussels."
A request for reschedule by Microsoft was denied. The EC said the availability of rooms in the courthouse made it impossible to reschedule. Microsoft offered to find an alternate room, but the EC rejected this proposal.
It is unclear what Microsoft's fate will be when the EC makes it ruling. Microsoft appears to be making some steps to allow users to opt out of Internet Explorer, but it still is far from embracing third-party browsers. Furthermore, the EC has a variety of options -- it could fine Microsoft, it could force it (or OEMs) to bundle third party browsers with Windows, or it could even simply ask Microsoft to ship Internet Explorer as a separate install disc in Europe.
The EU has been adopting an aggressive stance on antitrust violations over the last couple years. Just this month it fined chipmaker Intel a massive $1.45B USD, its largest fine to date, for engaging it anticompetitive payoffs and discounting. Microsoft had previously been charged for browser bundling by the U.S. Justice Department, which it reached a settlement with in 2002, pledging to be more open with its interface and accepting of third-party browsers.