Microsoft Agrees to Browser Ballot Terms

browser ballotThe European Commission has dropped their anti-trust charges against Microsoft following long-winded arguments over the legality of providing Internet Explorer within Windows. Under the terms of the deal, around 100 million PCs throughout Europe will show a browser ballot screen in March 2010.

The ballot screen will appear during a Windows update for XP, Vista and 7 assuming the user has retained IE as their default browser. Those that buy a new PC will see the screen the first time they access the web.

12 browsers will be offered. Yes — you read that correctly — there will be a bewildering choice of 12 browsers:

  • the 5 most popular browsers will appear in random order: IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari and Chrome
  • another 7 browsers will also appear in less-prominent positions: AOL, Maxthon, K-Meleon, Flock, Avant Browser, Sleipnir and Slim Browser.

The browser list will be updated at least once every six months with choices changing with the popularity of the software.

The ruling will remain in effect for at least five years and applies to all EU member states. European regulators have warned Microsoft that it may be fined up to 10% of yearly global turnover if the company does not fully abide with the terms of the deal during that period. movie downloads

Neelie Kroes, the EU’s competition commissioner, stated:

Millions of European consumers will benefit from this decision by having a free choice about which web browser they use.

The ruling will act as an incentive to rival browser makers to continue developing and improving their products.

Whilst I’m pleased users will be educated about alternatives, I’m not convinced the ballot screen will have a major impact on browser market share. A choice of 12 options will be confusing for many novices. Those making an uninformed or random choice will still have a 50:50 chance of opting for an IE-based browser!

Do you think the browser ballot screen will make a difference? Should Microsoft roll it out worldwide? Does the use of the word “ballot” annoy you? Is it a case of alliteration prevailing over interpretation?!

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  • http://www.dangrossman.info Dan Grossman

    10% of yearly global turnover? That’s like $6 billion or so, ridiculous. For $6 billion Microsoft could probably manipulate enough elections/appointments to have the entire European Commission replaced.

  • http://www.cemerson.co.uk Stormrider

    So, when to Apple have to offer a choice on the mac as well? Or Ubuntu?

  • http://logicearth.wordpress.com logic_earth

    Wait….There are 12 browsers?! Dang I only ever hear about the five. Maybe the other seven should file anti-trust against the five for not giving them ad time!

  • FunkyDUde

    I think they’re a little late on this, and will probably create more confusion, just as IE was getting more w3 compliant, now we have to make sure our websites look good in other browsers that would probably not even really be used that much anyways.

  • http://ryanroberts.co.uk RyanR

    @Stormrider

    Apple’s browser is not set as the default on over 90% of PC’s worldwide, they have no significant impact on what users use or the internet itself. Microsoft on the other hand have had a significant and it could be argued a negative one (in recent years) with their browser.

  • Biju

    I have my browser, will MS update mine too… its totally *bs* towards EU to force a company to add browsers…

    Now when will MAC or Ubuntu or other OS offer like this.

  • http://www.mikehealy.com.au cranial-bore

    Many users would probably struggle with the choice of a 32bit or 64bit installation if the question were presented to them. Choosing between twelve browsers (going purely by name if they are guessing) is really not helpful to the vast majority.
    I get the impression the European Commission is on a massive power trip with a generous serving of self congratulation too. It’s sad really, they probably tell themselves they’ve done real good in the world today.

  • http://www.cemerson.co.uk Stormrider

    @RyanR They are set as default on macs, which is the point. It doesn’t matter what kind of share an operating system has, if it is decided that browsers shouldn’t be bundled with the OS, then all OSs should follow the same rules.

  • huit

    Isn’t IE required for Windows updates? Until Microsoft lets you use any browser for updates they still hold a monopoly. I would think every Windows based system still has a version of IE on it unless the user totally blows off Windows updates.
    This ballot is a nice move in the right direction, at least since it creates awareness about other browsers. Though I do agree with FunkyDUde that it might make consumers more confused. Hopefully people will begin researching the differences in browsers the same way they would when choosing a new vacuum or bike or appliance.

  • http://www.mortier.ca/ Ryan Mortier

    This is just wrong. For anyone that cares about what a browser is, they are already using something other than IE.

    For the average user, this is only going to confuse them and give anyone that works in IT a headache.

    Apple should offer all 12 browsers as well.

  • http://www.cemerson.co.uk Stormrider

    “Isn’t IE required for Windows updates?”

    Er, not since a very long time ago!

  • wwb_99

    @Dan: excatly. Or at least they will be able to rent the US 5th fleet for a day and “adjust” the power structure on the Continent.

    @crainial-bore: spot on, you did forget about the corporate welfare for Opera. Because every browser is a special snowflake that deserves preservation, you know.

    @huit: no, not on current (Vista/2008 Server/7) versions of windows. Windows update is now an applet and does not run via a browser. That said, the key bit (eg-mshtml.dll) remains, this just removes the wrapper that we think of as IE.

  • http://jedicharles.com JediCharles

    I cannot understand why the EU only seems to sue Microsoft for antitrust and not other corporations. Apple and everyone else includes their preferred browser in their OSes therefore they also should be sued using EU’s reasoning. It should extend to the iPhone as well because Safari is included.

  • http://www.dangrossman.info Dan Grossman

    @JediCharles Antitrust law is pretty straightforward. Before anything else, the company in question needs to be a monopoly in the relevant market. Monopoly power is close enough tied to market share that we can look at that — Microsoft has more than 90% market share in operating systems. Apple and Linux have small single digit percentages. Therefore none of their actions can be in violation of antitrust laws, because they are not a monopoly, and can’t leverage their operating system to stifle competition in other markets.

    They’re simply too small. Apple and Linux distributions can bundle a browser, because doing so does not pose a threat to competition. Yes it may mean it’s harder for other browsers to compete on those platforms, but those platforms are so small that it doesn’t hurt their chance in the entire market, which is all computers.

  • http://www.joke4me.com robbin.joe

    that is is a good news.

    but in the most cases, there are a lot of applications depending IE, so i’m afraid of ..

  • ricktheartist

    @Dan Spot on! Exactly. “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

  • Brandon

    This is the way i see it if its your product then you should have all rights to do what you want. If consumers dont like it then they dont need to buy it. And just for everyone information if you do a windows update manually on xp you must use IE. The why i see it is Microsoft Should just stop selling there software to people in countries where their governments think they have the right to tell a software company what they can put in their own products.

  • http://www.dangrossman.info Dan Grossman

    @Brandon That would mean Microsoft would have to stop selling their products. Virtually all countries, including the US, have antitrust laws. Don’t you remember the years-long case against Microsoft in its home country?

  • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

    It’s called having a monopoly… None of us have one so it’s hard to understand what’s going on. However, when a corporation attains a monopolistic market share they are bound by local and international law to adhere to stricter regulations than a corporation that has a couple of percent of the market. To break it down, they are responsible for protecting the smaller companies from themselves.

    I don’t have anything against Microsoft. I love my VS and some of the versions of windows I use but I have no doubt that they (as a corporation) have done their very best to bury a great deal of the competition.

    Does anyone recall the fiasco a couple of years ago when they crammed OOXML through as an ISO? There was so much ballot stuffing and back door dealing going on that it was disgusting just to follow it. Same thing with the ODF standard fiasco when the some US states decided that they needed an open document format after Katrina so that they could access and share public/government docs. More lobbying by Microsoft followed and even smear campaigns to discredit public officials who were just trying to create a policy where public documents could be read by any office suite regardless of it’s brand.

    In this case it’s just a browser choice… Not such a big deal but MS was challenged by the EU and found to be not in compliance with the laws. You want to do business in the EU, you have to comply with their laws.

    At least the EU is keeping them in check. Perhaps the DOJ should too.

  • Lorenzo

    Some one mentioned that this would simply cause confusion and I agree. IE may be on 90% of the computers out there but 75% of the people using those computers are not educated enough on browsers to make a decent choice. A lot of people are going to be picking gross browsers just because they have a “pretty” icon or because it’s the first in the list.

    Dumb…

  • http://www.vantagegaming.net/ ben332211

    Uhh… The idea that choice is ‘free’, or that it’s always good is so flawed, :(

    Nudge; Book on choice, http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0141040017

    People need a good default, people don’t care what browser they use (as long as it ‘just works’), people who buy a computer just want to ‘use the internet’, not learn about what a browser is and have to pick from 12 meaningless options in a random order. Do we not remember the Windows 95? build the help database question?

    You push help, but instead of getting it you are asked to pick whether to generate a large or small help search index…

    Anti-trust laws are important in preventing a company from removing all competition due to their position, thus leaving customers ripe for the picking; but have Firefox and other browsers not shown that they -can- compete with the default? Forcing a company to _advertise_ it’s competition…? And in a forced-choice way, that can only be bad for consumers?

    Enforced choice – Not always a good thing.

  • willthiswork

    Uhh… The idea that choice is ‘free’, or that it’s always good is so flawed, :(

    Nudge; Book on choice, http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0141040017

    As someone pointed out in his review of that book:

    The biggest problem with this book is that it is written by two Americans – for an American audience. None of the examples, which are the backbone of this book, had any relevance to a reader from the UK. The examples including healthcare system, prescription drugs, finance, cars, politics etc. just have no relevance to anyone outside the USA.

    People need a good default, people don’t care what browser they use (as long as it ‘just works’)

    This sentence is based purely on nothing. Imagine if of all the products you buy you would only find one default on the shelves of a supermaket. Alternative products being hidden in some dark room available only for adepts.
    What sort a flawed market would it be? Why a broswer is different from a vacuum cleaner? As for people being that unsavy:
    1) this have to be demonstrated
    2) consumers need time to learn. Monopolistic practices stop them from learning.
    Monopolistic practices have to stopped. This what law says. It is not an opinion.

    Internet Explorer came to pre-eminence because (1) it was free, and (2) because it is required in corporate situations requiring network log-in authentication on Microsoft server products. We learned that the hard way a few years back when we “upgraded” server software and were forced to abandon Netscape. Our new Microsoft server software would NOT authenticate from anything but Internet Explorer.

    This was a case for a blatant anti-trust violation.
    Microsoft updates being another example.

    Forcing a company to _advertise_ it’s competition…? And in a forced-choice way, that can only be bad for consumers?

    You forget that this is a fine in response of many unattended warnings by EU. Not a general rule.