This quick post is a followup to a rant of mine from several years ago, in which I talk about the 2009 ruling of the European Union that Microsoft be forced to advertise for other company’s web browsers in Windows 7, and indeed offer a “Browser Selection Screen” (BSS) on all new computers sold within EU countries. I pointed out that this is the equivalent of going into McDonalds and having a smiling employee tell me that they are happy to sell me Burger King’s burgers and fries instead of their own product, if I so choose.

Today, Ars Technica talks about the latest EU idiocy – to summarize: for the past few years, the BSS was working fine, the bureaucrats in the EU were placated, and then Microsoft released Service Pack 1 last year and accidentally stripped out the EU-only code (of course Americans don’t have to put up with this outrageous crap) for the BSS in the update files, and then pushed out the service pack to the world. I’m sure the EU shit its collective pants with delight at the prospect of suing Microsoft again.

Let’s be blunt. The EU is asking for as much as 10% of Microsoft’s EU sales (in the form of total annual turnover) as punishment for this failure. If you do the math, that could add up to about $6-7 billion dollars. All for what is obviously a mistake, not intentional sanction-breaking on Microsoft’s fault. It’s ludicrous for the EU to view it as anything else – the BSS is one of the most obvious things a new computer user could possibly see as soon as they turn on their computer for the first time. This isn’t Microsoft trying to slip the wool over anyone’s eyes, or replace the download links in the other listed browsers in the BSS with links to Internet Explorer. This was a simple mistake probably attributed to a lazy coder copy and pasting the SP1 code from the USA into the SP1 code for the world. Worth a $6-7 billion punishment? On what planet?

This is what you see when you click the "Big Blue Internet Button" for the first time, if you live in the EU. The order is randomized each time the page is loaded.

It’s worth mentioning that the EU total budget is approximately $157 billion dollars this year. A successful (pending) ruling of 10% of Microsoft’s profits this year would be no small chunk of change to them. This isn’t about protecting EU citizens from the big bad Microsoft monopoly. This is about stealing money from an American corporation because it’s part of their annual budgetary requirements. “What do we have lined up in income this year, guys? Well, we haven’t stolen money from Microsoft under the guise of “protecting our citizens” since the measly $1.5 billion sanction against them in 2009, let’s put them on this year’s budgetary agenda for 4 times that amount.”

I’ll say what I said in 2009 – The EU should be banned from selling Microsoft products until their government lowers antitrust penalty fines to reasonable levels. Microsoft is not a governmental cash cow. The EU is supposed to be getting revenue from Microsoft in the form of tax income on copies of the software sold within their borders – although the cynic in me figures that because the EU nations aren’t able to reign in their 13 billion dollar software piracy problem (and therefore not receive sales or import tax on sold products) they’ve decided just to hit the piggybank at the source instead. I’d like to see the EU’s reaction if Microsoft fined the government of Bulgaria for not properly cracking down on their citizens, who pirate 65% of their software, according to the 2011 article I linked to above. Could they do that? Of course not. Microsoft is a corporation, Bulgaria is a country. What they could do is stop selling their software in Bulgaria. Judging by these piracy numbers, it’s not like it’s going to hurt their bottom line much, anyway. What it can do is send a message that they won’t be intimidated by this bullying.

Microsoft has apologized and fixed the issue already – long ago – and they’ve offered to extend the BSS’s visibility on EU computers for another 15 months beyond what the sanction originally called for, which was December 2014.