An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including a pending EU antitrust fine for Microsoft, Facebook buys a Microsoft ad platform, Windows 8 has roughly 2.7 percent market share, IE dominates the web browser market again, a potential sign of life for Windows RT, Barnes & Noble’s NOOK circles the drain, and the Groupon CEO goes down in style.

Report: EU ready to fine Microsoft over browser ballot mistake

If one were to write an “Onion”-like parody site for the tech world, one couldn’t have come up with a more ludicrous story than Microsoft pretending to mistakenly disable the court-ordered browser ballot screen in EU versions of Windows and then hoping no one noticed. And yet this story isn’t just true, it’s even dumber than it sounds because this transgression lasted a full 5 months before the EU caught on and called Microsoft’s bluff. Microsoft offered a Jim Baker-like apology, as you may recall, but the EU later formally charged the firm with violating the terms of its 2009 antitrust settlement. And now the EU is getting ready to fine Microsoft yet again. (Microsoft has paid the EU fines of $2.1 billion related to antitrust transgressions so far.) According to an exclusive report by Reuters, EU antitrust regulators will fine Microsoft a “significant” amount by the end of March, though the actual amount is unknown. Is a bajillion a number?

Facebook buys Microsoft ad platform

Facebook announced this week that it would purchase Microsoft’s Atlas Advertiser Suite for an undisclosed sum. This ad platform was part of Microsoft’s misguided $6.3 billion purchase of aQuantive in 2007, a purchase that Microsoft wrote off to the sum of $6.2 billion in 2012. So if Facebook paid at least $100,000 for this thing, Steve Ballmer can sleep at night, I guess. According to Facebook, it will use Atlas to do something it’s never been able to do so far: Monetize its amazing user base by selling ads. As for Microsoft, it claims that the sale “in no way … changes or diminishes” its commitment to display and search advertising.

Windows 8 has roughly 2.7 percent usage share

And yes, you can expect the usual and incorrect discussions elsewhere about “market share.” According to NetApplications, Windows 8 accounts for 2.7 percent of all worldwide OS usage, up just a smidge from 2.3 percent a month ago and 1.7 percent from the month before that. Overall, Windows now accounts for 92 percent of all usage (unchanged month-over-month), compared to 7.2 percent for Mac (up a tiny bit) and 1.2 percent (unchanged) for Linux. Looking specifically at product versions, the top five OSes are Windows 7 (45 percent), Windows XP (39 percent), Windows Vista (5 percent), Windows 8 (2.7 percent) and Mac OS X 10.8 (2.6 percent).

Internet Explorer usage share rises yet again

Internet Explorer delivered its sixth straight month of worldwide usage share gains, according to data from NetApplications, ending February 2013 with about 56 percent of the market for computer-based web browser share. And sorry Chrome fans (relax, I’m one as well), but usage in Google’s browser fell, for the second straight month, to about 16 percent, well below its May 2012 high of 20 percent. In fact, Chrome isn’t even the second-most-frequently-used web browser, Firefox is. The Mozilla browser delivered over 20 percent of usage for the month, and while it hasn’t trailed Chrome since last May, the gap between the two is now widening. Looks like we’ve settled into the new (old?) normal: When it comes to browsing the web, there’s IE and then there’s everything else. (Side-note: Someone will inevitably point out that StatCounter shows quite different statistics. And that’s true, because StatCounter doesn’t measure usage share—i.e. actual users—it measures page clicks. And Chrome page clicks aren’t just not usage share, they’re artificially high because of the way it pre-caches potential pages that users might visit to speed performance. Put simply, NetApplications’ usage statistics actually measure usage while StatCounter’s don’t.)

Windows RT: Not dead yet?

Bring out your dead! With many PC makers refusing to make Windows RT devices during the Windows 8/RT launch window and sales of Microsoft Surface RT tablets being in the proverbial gutter, I’m starting to think that this fledgling OS isn’t going to get the chance it deserves to make it in this dangerous world. But just when I was ready to write off RT for good, word comes from on high—OK, from southeast Asia—that PC maker Acer does in fact plan to release a Windows RT device of its own sometime in 2013. And this is particularly interesting because Acer, you may recall, has been the most vocal of all PC makers in its criticism of Microsoft making Surface and competing with its partners. Speaking at Mobile World Congress this week, Acer president Oliver Ahrens said that a Windows RT device would indeed be part of the firm’s product line in 2013, though it’s not clear if that means later in the year when more capable ARM hardware is available.

ROOK’d: Barnes & Noble’s eBook strategy fizzles

When people ask me about ecosystems, there are some tough choices—as in digital music—but then there are some obvious, no-brainer choices too. And so it is with eBooks, where there is Amazon’s Kindle and then there is everything else. And when I hear from people who are considering the Barnes & Noble NOOK in particular, I warn against it. And when Microsoft announced its $300 million investment in NOOK last year—part of a patent settlement I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. So I laughed, ruefully, when B&N released new NOOKs late last year that were based, again, on Android, and not on Microsoft’s Windows 8/RT. And I simply cry now when I see that B&N’s NOOK strategy isn’t just failing, it’s circling the drain. In a quarter in which overall tablet sales rose sharper than at any time, NOOK sales actually fell, year-over-year, by 26 percent, a shortfall that the firm described as “an obvious disappointment.” I agree about the obvious bit. You know, since the NOOK’s fate was always pretty obvious. The good news? You can read Kindle books with the Amazon Kindle app on a NOOK.

Groupon CEO leaves with a flourish

As you may know, Groupon this week fired CEO and founder Andrew Mason after a disappointing quarter in which a nose-diving stock price wiped out billions of dollars of value in the company. But give the guy a bit of credit. The high-flying Mason, who once turned down a $6 billion acquisition offer from Google, went out with a flourish. “People of Groupon,” he wrote in his final email to employees. “After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today. If you’re wondering why ... you haven’t been paying attention.” LOL. Good stuff.

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