Microsoft has revealed that 28 million PCs were impacted by its legally-mandated browser choice blunder, blaming engineer error for not presenting Windows 7 users with a choice of web options. The European Commission has reopened its investigation into antitrust behaviors around browser bundling in Windows, after reports that many users weren’t getting prompted to pick from a range of apps as Microsoft had promised; in a statement, Microsoft says the bungle was accidental rather than a malicious and deliberate attempt to squash the competition.
“As agreed with the Commission in 2009, Microsoft uses our Windows Update service to send the BCS software to Windows-based PCs. Once installed, the BCS software checks to see if Internet Explorer is the default browser and, if it is, the BCS is displayed to the user. The Windows Update system uses “detection logic” to determine which software updates (such as the BCS) to distribute to which PCs. The detection logic for the BCS software was accurate when we began to distribute it in early 2010, and the BCS software was delivered as it should have been. Unfortunately, the engineering team responsible for maintenance of this code did not realize that it needed to update the detection logic for the BCS software when Windows 7 SP1 was released last year. As a result of this error, new PCs with Windows 7 SP1 did not receive the BCS software as they should have” Microsoft
Microsoft and the EC settled on the Browser Choice Screen as a way of avoiding further antitrust investigations back in 2009, presenting Windows users with the opportunity to download Internet Explorer or, if they preferred, Firefox, Opera, Chrome or Safari. The screen is supposed to be displayed to all new users, but a mix-up among the company’s engineers meant Windows 7 SP1 users didn’t see it.
Complaints that the BCS was missing had already reached the European Commission, which alerted Microsoft to its concerns. Upon investigation, Microsoft confirmed that the BCS hadn’t been distributed as intended; it apparently began distribution of the fixed version on July 3, and expects to have completed that process by the end of this week.
Microsoft has called in an external investigation team to figure out how the problem happened, and that will report directly to the EC. Meanwhile, the company itself will extend the BCS program by a further 15 months, though the Commission could choose to apply other sanctions if it sees fit.