The European Commission has accused Microsoft of stymieing competition by bundling its Internet Explorer Web browser with Windows systems, firing the latest salvo in an expensive, years-long battle with the software titan.
The executive arm of the European Union (EU) reached the preliminary view that the firm, which controls roughly three-quarters of the web browser arena, had prevented rival browsers from competing and had infringed EU rules by abusing its dominant position.
It added that Microsoft had eight weeks to reply to a "statement of objections" sent to the company, in which it threatened to impose a fine on the US software giant if its preliminary findings were confirmed. Microsoft has had to shell out more than $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) in fines to the commission in the past.
The Commission "sets out evidence and outlines its preliminary conclusion that Microsoft's tying of Internet Explorer to the Windows operating system harms competition between web browsers, undermines product innovation and ultimately reduces consumer choice," the EU executive said in an official statement.
"If the preliminary views expressed in the statement of objection are confirmed, the Commission may impose a fine on Microsoft, require Microsoft to cease the abuse and impose a remedy that would restore genuine consumer choice and enable competition on the merits," it said.
Microsoft and the EU have engaged in a running spat over competition issues for years, and the US company has been fined several times for allegedly abusing its 95 per cent dominance of personal computer systems through its ubiquitous Windows software.
"This case is about the future, about maintaining an open and dynamic Internet," said Thomas Vinje, a Clifford Chance lawyer representing ECIS, a non-profit organisation that promotes market conditions in the tech sector.