Microsoft Corp. was fined 561 million euros ($731 million) by European Union regulators for violating the terms of a settlement to give users a choice of web browsers aside from its Internet Explorer.

Today’s fine — about 1 percent of the company’s 2012 revenues — brings to 2.24 billion euros the penalties faced by Microsoft in its EU antitrust clashes over the past decade, including an 899 million-euro fine for failing to obey an order to share data with competitors.

The world’s largest software maker agreed in 2009 to offer access to rival browsers as a part of a settlement to repair its relationship with the bloc’s regulators. The company said last July it only learned that month that it didn’t offer its browser choice software to some 28 million computers running Windows 7 Service Pack 1, or 10 percent of the computers that should have received it.

“I hope this decision will make companies think twice,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told reporters at a press conference today. “We trusted in the reports about the compliance.”

Robin Koch, a spokesman for Microsoft in Brussels, declined to immediately comment on the fine. Shares of the Redmond, Washington-based company fell 0.5 percent to the equivalent of $28.21 at 12:26 p.m. in German trading.

10-Year Fight

Microsoft ended more than 10 years of EU antitrust investigations with the 2009 pledge. Its settlement offered consumers who bought personal computers a choice of the 12 most widely used browsers to install in addition to, or instead of Internet Explorer.

The company told regulators in December 2011 that it was complying with its commitment to display a browser-choice screen to users of its Windows operating system. The new fine marks the first time a company has been sanctioned for failing to stick to the terms of a legally binding settlement.

Mozilla Corp. General Counsel Harvey Anderson said in an October blog post that daily downloads of its Firefox browser fell by 63 percent prior to Microsoft’s fix and that the company may have lost as many as 9 million potential downloads as a result of the glitch.

Microsoft was also warned by the EU last year to modify how it presents its Internet Explorer browser in Windows 8 to avert another antitrust clash.

Google Negotiations

Google Inc. is negotiating a settlement with EU regulators to end an antitrust probe into allegations that it discriminates against rivals in its search results. Microsoft, the operator of the Bing search engine, is one of several companies that have complained about Google’s behavior.

Google’s Chrome was the most popular web browser globally in February, with 37 percent of market share, according to statistics from web analytics firm StatCounter. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer followed with 30 percent. Mozilla’s Firefox accounted for just over a fifth of users. Chrome overtook Internet Explorer as the world’s most-used browser in May, StatCounter said.

(Source: Bloomberg)