European antitrust regulators have sent Microsoft a list of objections, charging the software giant with breaching its previous commitment to offer Windows users a choice of Internet browsers.
The formal statement of objections sent to Microsoft today outlines how the company failed to offer a "browser choice" screen to millions of Windows users, which it had agreed to do under a legally binding 2009 settlement with the European Commission.
The Commission said in a statement that it "takes the preliminary view that Microsoft has failed to roll out the browser choice screen with its Windows 7 Service Pack 1, which was released in February 2011. From February 2011 until July 2012, millions of Windows users in the EU may not have seen the choice screen. Microsoft has acknowledged that the choice screen was not displayed during that period."
Microsoft admitted earlier this year that it had "fallen short in [its] responsibility" to update Windows 7 Service Pack 1 "due to a technical error."
Under the the settlement deal, Microsoft committed to offering European users of new Windows PCs a "browser ballot" screen, giving them a choice of which Web browser to use on their machines -- browsers such as Firefox, Opera, or Chrome were offered alongside Microsoft's own Internet Explorer.
The browser ballot first rolled out in Europe in February 2010, with the Redmond, Wash.-based company promising to continue giving users a choice of browsers until 2014 -- including in its future operating systems, such as the forthcoming Windows 8.
But in July, the European Commission said it had received complaints that Microsoft was not upholding the agreement to offer the browser choice screen.
European authorities subsequently found that Microsoft had failed to offer the browser choice screen beyond February 2011, when the software giant released its first service pack for Windows 7.
Microsoft could be fined up to 10 percent of its global annual turnover -- up to 5.7 billion euros ($7 billion) -- or face making changes to how it conducts business in the 27 European member states if it is found to have broken European antitrust laws.
Microsoft said in a statement today: "We take this matter very seriously and moved quickly to address this problem as soon as we became aware of it. Although this was the result of a technical error, we take responsibility for what happened, and we are strengthening our internal procedures to help ensure something like this cannot happen again. We sincerely apologize for this mistake and will continue to cooperate fully with the Commission."