AMSTERDAM — The European Union has fined Microsoft $733 million for breaking a pledge to offer personal computer users a choice of Internet browsers when they install the company's flagship Windows operating system.
The penalty imposed by the EU's executive arm, the Commission, is a first for Brussels: no company has ever failed to keep its end of a bargain with EU authorities before.
In 2009, Microsoft Corp. struck a broad settlement with the Commission to resolve disputes over the company's abuse of the dominance of Windows, which had spanned more than a decade.
Back then, the company promised to give Windows users the option of choosing another browser rather than having Microsoft's Internet Explorer automatically installed on machines.
But Microsoft failed to stick to the deal for about 15 million installations of Windows 7 software in Europe from May 2011 until July 2012.
It admitted the failure last year.
The Commission's top competition regulator, Joaquin Almunia, said at a news conference in Brussels, that the fine reflects the size of the violation and the length of time it went on for. It was intended to make an example of Microsoft and deter other companies from doing same thing.
In theory, the commission could have fined Microsoft up to 10 percent of its global annual sales during the period the violation took place.
“A failure to comply is a serious infringement that must be sanctioned accordingly,” Almunia said.
Keith Hylton, a professor of law and antitrust specialist at Boston University, said the fine was “far in excess of any benefit Microsoft could have gotten from the error, and vastly in excess of any harm to EU consumers, who are aware of alternatives to Internet Explorer.”
Anthony Sabino, an antitrust lawyer and professor at St. John's University, said the Commission was right to fine Microsoft for the latest lapse, but the size of the penalty seemed “disproportionate … perhaps even petty, given that Microsoft has paid its fines and yielded to all the demands of the EU.”