The EU has said that Microsoft Corp’s practice of selling the Internet Explorer browser together with its Windows operating system violates EU antitrust rules.
It ordered the software giant to untie the browser from its operating system in the 27-nation EU, enabling makers of rival browsers to compete fairly.
“Microsoft’s tying of Internet Explorer to the Windows operating system harms competition between Web browsers, undermines product innovation and ultimately reduces consumer choice,” the EU said in a statement on Friday.
It gave Microsoft eight weeks to respond, adding that the company could defend its position in a hearing if it found that useful.
Microsoft issued a statement saying: “We are committed to conducting our business in full compliance with European law.”
The commission’s investigation into Microsoft’s Web-surfing software began a year ago, after the Norwegian browser-maker Opera Software ASA filed a complaint. Opera argued that Microsoft hurt competitors not only by bundling the software, in effect giving away the browser, but also by not following accepted Web standards.
That meant people who built Web pages would have to tweak their codes for different browsers. In many cases, they simply designed pages that worked with market-leading Internet Explorer but showed up garbled on competing browsers.
At the time of the complaint, Opera said it was asking EU regulators to either force Microsoft to market a version of Windows without the browser, or to include other browsers with Windows.
The European Commission upheld Opera’s complaint, adding that a yearlong probe led it “to believe that the tying of Internet Explorer with Windows — which makes Internet Explorer available on 90 percent of the world’s PCs — distorts competition.”
It said Microsoft marketed Internet Explorer “with an artificial distribution advantage which other Web browsers are unable to match.”
It added that Internet Explorer’s disproportionate market share left content providers and software developers no option but to “design Web sites or software primarily for Internet Explorer.”
Friday’s announcement by the European Commission means Microsoft must alter its marketing practices in Europe and risks a large fine.