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Microsoft fined $731 million by the European Commission

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March 6, 2013

Microsoft has been fined US $731 million by the European Commission after it violated an agreement to offer Windows users alternative web browsers to Internet Explorer.

A new investigation was launched against Microsoft by Brussels' competition officials in mid-2012 following several complaints that the software giant was still using its Windows operating system to push people into browsing the web with Internet Explorer instead of competing browsers such as Firefox and Google's Chrome.

Microsoft signed a legally binding agreement with the commission that required the company to display a choice screen in Windows that allowed customers in Europe to pick between using IE, Firefox, Chrome and other browsers on the market.

The dialogue box was supposed to remain in the operating system until 2014. But in February 2011, when Microsoft issued its first Windows 7 service pack, the selection screen suddenly vanished from the software.

Last year, Microsoft told competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia that it hadn't noticed the browser choice screen had been missing from its operating system for 17 months. This meant that 15 million customers were not offered a range of browsers to run on their PCs.

The EU commission said today that it was imposing a half-a-billion-euro fine on Microsoft for failing to comply with its commitment.

Almunia said in a statement: "Legally binding commitments reached in antitrust decisions play a very important role in our enforcement policy because they allow for rapid solutions to competition problems in Europe. Of course, such decisions require strict compliance. A failure to comply is a very serious infringement that must be sanctioned accordingly."

But Microsoft could have been slapped with a much bigger monetary penalty as the commission can demand anything up to 10 percent of a company's annual revenue. That means Redmond could have faced an enourmous €7.4 billion fine.

In working out how to penalise Microsoft, the EU commission added that it took into account the gravity and duration of the infringement. It also considered imposing a fine large enough to grab the company's attention so that it would prevent itself from making the same mistake again.

But Microsoft's cooperation with Almunia's office proved to be a mitigating circumstance that helped keep the fine low in relative terms.

In other IT and software news

Flash storage maker Violin Memory is pushing out a new line of PCIe server flash cards and strengthening its relationship with one of its investor, Toshiba, which owns NAND chip fabrication plants.

The company ships 3000 and 6000 models of its networked all-flash array technology. They can have PCIe connections but the array's primary function is to be shared between multiple servers.

Lately, Violin has been building its data management for these arrays, signing deals with Symantec and it has an agreement as well with VMware to run vSphere inside its arrays.

PCIe flash card market leader Fusion-io is run by CEO and co-founder David Flynn - but its former chief exec Don Basile is now the CEO of Violin Memory.

Basile appears to be squaring off with his old team at Fusion-io in its PCIe flash card heartland. The new Velocity cards come in 1.37, 2.75, 5.5 and 11 TB raw capacity versions at a list price cost of $6 per GB for all of them except the entry-level 1.37 TB card which lists at $3 per GB.

We calculated the full list prices to be $4,200, $16,900, $33,800 and $67,500 for the four capacity levels respectively. Violin said these are third-generation cards, and claimed that the prices, together with the card's performance, provide a two to four-times price/performance advantage over Fusion-io.

"We believe we have the best price/performance, higher density and higher performance too," said Basile.

He added that Toshiba and Violin Memory are collapsing a sometimes multi-member supply chain down to just two suppliers or one. He cited the rumor of EMC using a Virident-Seagate PCIe card that uses Intel-Micron chips - that's four suppliers and an added cost.

Violin said its alliance with Toshiba enabled it "to have full visibility and control of the supply chain, manufacturing, distribution, and R&D efforts at the foundry, chip and software layer".

The Violin cards are composed of NAND and DRAM with a cache between the two. Host servers can boot from them. Violin will extend support for older BIOSs to widen the pool of servers that can start-up from the memory products.

We're told "sustained" performance, defined in terms of a 75:25 read:write mix using 4 KB blocks, is 120,000 IOPS for the small card, and then, 180,000, 270,000 and 540,000 IOPS for the 2.75, 5.5 and 11 TB cards respectively.

The data transfer rate exceeds a million IOPS for each card when using 512B blocks. There is a 550 GB or 1.1 TB Virident Standard FlashMax II card which is rated at 105,000 IOPS in a 70:30 read:write mix, but Violin's 1.37 TB Velocity slightly outperforms that, although using a 75:25 mix.

Performance-optimized FlashMax IIs at 1.1 and 2.2 TB capacities output 220,000 IOPS with a 70:30 read:write mix.

The 1.1 TB model appears to be faster than Violin's Velocity 1.37 TB and 2.75 TB cards but slower than the others.

Violin claimed that its cards need up to one third the cooling airflow of competing devices, and can therefore be used in server slots considered unsuitable for PCIe flash for fear of overheating the system.

Initially, 24nm consumer MLC NAND will be supplied by Toshiba and this will evolve to 19nm chips. Where does Toshiba fit into this equation, you may ask? Well, Toshiba invested in Violin in April 2010. The amount wasn't revealed and a NAND chip supply arrangement was part of the deal.

Also, the Japanese electronics company has been distributing Violin Memory arrays for about a year. This partnership is now being strengthened by the two suppliers engaging in a two-way exchange of technologies.

Toshiba will introduce its own PCIe products, using Violin know-how. Basile said Toshiba could work with server manufacturers and work towards supply deals involving potentially millions of cards.

Source: The EU Commission.

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