Last fall Microsoft updated its newest operating system, Windows 8, to include the choice screen for EU customers. But at the same time the Commission also gave Microsoft a pass: It decided that Microsoft does not have to open Windows RT, the limited version built for tablets, to rivals' browsers.
The $732 million fine, equivalent to 561 million euros, was much smaller than the maximum -- it could have been as high as $7.9 billion -- and smaller, too, than some had argued should be applied.
"We took into account the infringement, the gravity of the infringement and the mitigating circumstances, the cooperation from Microsoft," explained Almunia when asked how the Commission calculated the fine. "Microsoft cooperated with us with information that helped in our investigation."
When pressed to explain how no one at either Microsoft or the Commission noticed that the ballot was missing for over a year -- something one expert Tuesday found inexplicable -- Almunia acknowledged that the company was monitoring itself.
"We trusted in the reports on the compliance [from Microsoft]," said Almunia. "We were not trying to explore Windows Service Pack 1. But maybe we should have tried to complement their reports."
Almunia hinted that Microsoft would no longer be monitoring itself.
In fact, Microsoft itself not only reported that all was working as it should as late as December 2011 -- deep into the time the ballot was absent -- but its support personnel knew of the problem months earlier.
In March 2011, after Windows SP1's release but before the start of the infringement according to Almunia's timeline, a user reported the omission on Microsoft's own support forum. After some cursory back-and-forth between the user and a company support engineer, the latter ignored the former's continuing questions.
The missing ballot generated fallout other than the $732 million fine of today. Last year, before his ouster from Microsoft, the bonus of then-Windows chief Stephen Sinofsky was reduced by 40% because of what the company's board said was a failure "to provide a browser choice screen on certain Windows PCs in Europe as required by its 2009 commitment with the European Commission."
Microsoft did not comment today on the size of the fine, but issued a statement that reiterated what it had said several times since July 2012.