The tired spat between Google and Microsoft just got a lot more interesting after reports that the search giant tipped off European authorities to antitrust concerns, a tip that will now cost the Windows-maker nearly a billion dollars. When news of the fine levied by the European Union's competition watchdog broke on Wednesday, nobody was too surprised that the European Commission was punishing Microsoft for bullying consumers. But with a recent headline-stealing dispute between the Redwood, Washington company and Google, it's competitor down in Mountain View, California, bloggers got curious. Early Wednesday evening, The Wall Street Journal's Tom Gara wondered, "Did Google Snitch?" According to a Financial Times report published a few minutes later, the answer is yes.
Before we get too wrapped up in the Google-Microsoft feud, let's review the fine itself. Microsoft has long been criticized for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows and, as a direct result, the vast majority of PCs on the market. This scenario proved central to the famous 1998 Senate antitrust hearings, when Bill Gates testified that his company was not trying to monopolize the computer business. Gates got off the hook then, but the issue popped up again in 2009, when the European Commission forced Microsoft to offer consumers an alternative to Internet Explorer. The Windows maker agreed to offer consumers a "choice screen" when they opened the browser for the first time until 2014. "Despite early implementation, regulators later received a complaint from a third-party and spotted that the choice had been removed from February 2011 until July 2012," reports The Journal's Vanessa Mock. Microsoft blamed the removal on a "technical error."
Hmmm. Who could that "third party" have been? Back to that FT scoop, "Brussels punished Microsoft for failing to give at least 15m consumers a choice of web browser — a violation of a voluntary antitrust pact that was spotted and raised by Google and Opera, according to several people familiar with the case." Oh, that's sneaky.
Some would say that Microsoft had it coming to them. The company's been trolling Google for months with its "Scroogled" campaign, a transparent attempt to scare consumers over to Bing and Outlook by reminding them that Google is reading their email, among other things. This week, Microsoft reaffirmed its commitment to the campaign to ReadWrite. The blog's Brian Hall paraphrased a Microsoft statement: "We have always planned to run the Scroogled campaign until the end of time — or until we triumph over Google. Whichever comes first."
Well, who looks triumphant now?