Microsoft Backtracks on Browser-less Windows 7 E

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Windows 7 browser ballotMicrosoft will offer a choice of competing web browsers with European versions of Windows 7 when the new OS is released in October 2009. The company hopes the action will adhere with European Union legislation and fend off further anti-trust fines. Although Windows 7 is selling well, Microsoft revenues are down by almost a fifth and costly court cases will not help.

Microsoft’s original proposal was to remove Internet Explorer from Windows 7 E (European version). Anyone pre-ordering Windows 7 in Europe is currently shown a warning that the OS will not provide a browser. For example, Amazon UK published detailed browser download instructions (although anyone needing these probably shouldn’t attempt an OS installation!) Hardware vendors would have been free to install the web browser of their choice, but IE was likely to remain the most popular choice.

The European Commission did not consider Windows 7 sans-browser to be a viable solution. It was too similar to the failed versions of Windows without a media player — they preferred a ballot screen to restore browser competition. Although full details are yet to be finalized, Microsoft has issued the following proposal:

  1. Microsoft — rather than hardware manufacturers — will control the browser ballot screen.
  2. Windows 7 E will be provided with Internet Explorer.
  3. New installations of Windows 7 in Europe will show a web page offering a choice of five popular web browsers.
  4. European Windows XP and Vista users will see the same ballot screen during a future automatic update (if IE is set as their default browser).
  5. The list of alternative browsers will be based on 6-month usage statistics and will be reviewed twice per year.

Is this the right decision for Microsoft? I suspect so — the EU could have fined the company and ordered far more draconian changes to the OS. At least Microsoft have overall control of the ballot screen and can install IE without fear of legislative reprisals.

Related reading:

  1. Windows 7 Pre-Orders Sell Out on Day 1
  2. Microsoft’s Removal of IE from Windows 7 Will Have No Effect
  3. Microsoft to Offer Competing Browsers in Windows?

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  • Ryan

    Think thats fair enough, like it or not most people will still install IE as that’s what they are familiar with, so long as its IE8 and not IE6 :)

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

    Interesting that the new change gets ‘backtracked’ into XP and Vista as well

  • curtismchale

    So once I have been using a computer for months/years I will then have to choose my browser again? The saddest part of this is that Microsoft will get bad press about it even though this is an EU thing. I know that I would be highly irritated by that screen even though I know why it is happening.

  • http://www.reich-consulting.net/userproof/ coffee_ninja

    … where’s the ruling that OS X and Linux must ship without a browser? Users expect to have a browser on their machine. Not having one is crippling, even if they only use it as a “Firefox Downloader.”

  • Brandon

    In other news, Google has been required to provide a link to http://www.bing.com, the Toyota website has been forced to display and allow purchasing of Honda cars, and Dell has been required to have non-Dell monitors in the choices when buying a monitor on their web site.

    All because users apparently aren’t allowed to research and make choices without people explicitly telling what they are able to do.

  • hyperhtml

    I completely agree with coffee ninja. If one OS has to do this, all of the OS’s should be forced to do this. Safari will be in the same boat as IE if it isn’t done soon.

  • graedus_dave

    Brandon is totally right. I am no big fan of MS and as a web developer I loathe IE, but it is absurd that they are even being asked to do this.

  • LazyAndroid

    MS is evil and IE is the mother of all evil. But the EU is plain stupid.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    The problem is this: Microsoft has an OS monopoly and they used/abused their dominance to take over the browser market. They also held back web innovation because they controlled the browser and saw no reason to update it. The same can not be said of Apple or Linux — they do not wield the same power.

    However, MS created the free browser market and, thanks to Mozilla, we now have thriving competition. Arguably, a browser has become an essential part of any OS — those using web apps would say that it is the OS. The EU ruling is probably 10 years too late.

  • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

    Ummm… Did you guys actually read the article?


    The European Commission did not consider Windows 7 sans-browser to be a viable solution. It was too similar to the failed versions of Windows without a media player — they preferred a ballot screen to restore browser competition.

  • Brandon

    Craig:

    While Microsoft did create poor conditions for innovation– advertising other products that they have not made and have no financial incentive to advertise is just ridiculous.

    Not only does it not make sense from a business perspective, but it won’t do anything. Users will see IE, know that that is what they have used, and stick with it.

    The problem with this “fix” is that it doesn’t really fix anything. As developers and designers and technical people in general, we are good at researching and understanding things for our own benefit. If we see a list of browsers, and we didn’t know that a certain one existed, we might research it. It might even become our default browser.

    Most regular users, on the other hand, won’t see a list of browsers and decide to research them and try them out. They will stick with what they know.

    We should be working to educate users on the advantages of other browsers from a neutral standpoint, not forcing a business to lose potential for profit because users do not understand they have choices.

    From a personal standpoint, I like what YouTube and other top websites are doing now:

    They are phasing out support for older (IE) browsers, listing alternatives that will work better. YouTube is trying to get users to view YouTube in a better way, without having to advertise MSN Video (or whatever Microsoft’s alternative is called). It helps them because YouTube is built entirely on the web; naturally they are interested in the browser the user uses.

    It also will likely have more effect, since soon it will be ‘upgrade or you can’t view the site’ (unless I’m mistaken?). In that way users are FORCED to educate themselves on other available browsers, or suffer life without YouTube… ouch ;)

    Wow, sorry for the long e-mail :)

  • http://www.keystonecapitalchorus.org DaveMaxwell

    The problem is this: Microsoft has an OS monopoly and they used/abused their dominance to take over the browser market. They also held back web innovation because they controlled the browser and saw no reason to update it. The same can not be said of Apple or Linux — they do not wield the same power.

    Sorry, but that argument just doesn’t hold water for me. If you’re going to apply a standard, then it should be applied across the board. As Brandon said, does Apple have to make the same type of concession? Are they forced to have a browser selection screen which allows the user to choose from Safari and Firefox (there maybe more but I don’t have any Macs).

    For me, it’s similar to what Apple is doing with iTunes vs the Pre (and others) at the moment, where the latest iTunes update locked them out. iTunes is arguably the dominant music/video download purchasing mechanism on the web today. Why are they not being made to allow for other ways to access the iTunes store/sync with their iTunes databases? Because they’re not Microsoft, that’s why – different rules apply.

    From a business sense, it doesn’t make sense for any manufacturer to advertise someone else’s product. For the EU to force them to do so is ridiculous, plain and simple. I’ve never understood it.

  • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

    I think perhaps a number of folks are forgetting that this is the European Union that has made this ruling and here’s the thing… It’s Europe, and when they make the rules in Europe, they tend to stick.

    This has been a saga. It’s been going on for years. The Cole’s Notes:
    Microsoft was warned about some practices that were deemed to be anti-competitive in Europe. Then they were taken to the European Court. They were found to be guilty. Microsoft asked to file an appeal. On appeal the charges still stuck.

    There’s not a lot more they can do but comply with the court rulings pay the 100’s of millions and get on with business.

    I think the proposal is a fair compromise… Most people with install Explorer. I will. I test against it every day and 8 is a pretty good browser.

  • http://fcOnTheWeb.com ferrari_chris

    This is still ridiculous, only slightly less so.

    The fact that a single providor in a marketplace can be targeted like this makes me wonder what sort of precedent the EU is trying to set up.

  • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

    The fact that a single providor in a marketplace can be targeted like this makes me wonder what sort of precedent the EU is trying to set up.

    You should probably get out more often. Microsoft is just one of many that are being held to the rules by the EU. Search EU Lawsuits and you’ll find that many companies and entire industries are held accountable by them. It’s their marketplace and if you want to play then you have to obey the rules.

    In my opinion it’s not perfect but it is a much better system than what we see in North America where the lobbyist with the most money holds the most influence.

  • Charbax

    The EU should demand that this ballot box be displayed before even IE be downloaded and installed on a new Windows machine.

    The order on which browsers are displayed on the screen should be randomly among the most popular 5 or 10 available browsers.

    No browser icon logo should be displayed, only the name of the browser and the organization or corporation that is responsible for it.

    Microsoft should do this not only in Europe but worldwide.

  • graedus_dave

    Charbax: Also, when you are installing Windows, the installation program should give you an option to install Linux or Leopard. Images for these operating systems should be included with all Windows operating system distributions so users can have choice. :rolleyes:

  • Tim

    Anyone know what the fifth browser will be? IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari … and Chrome perhaps?

  • W2ttsy

    @DaveMaxwell

    The reason that the EU isn’t targetting Apple, iTunes or the iTMS is that the system is opt in. You don’t get forced to install iTunes if you want to listen to music, and you aren’t forced to install it if you want to download music from the web.

    Like any company, they have a right to bundle proprietary software specific to their hardware. No different from the Canon picture software that came with your digital camera or the scanner software from HP that was bundled with the scanner.

    Microsoft created a monopoly with IE back in the 90’s when they undercut netscape and installed IE by default (and free) on Windows powered machines. Since then, they have actively created a perception where IE is the only browser out there or, forced you to use IE in order to connect to many MS powered solutions (sharepoint, exchange mail, windows update). Their blatent disregard for web standards is just a further kick in the teeth. The only reason they still passively support IE6 (IE7 and 8 backwards modes) is so people who used MS Frontpage to create a site don’t scream when it doesn’t work in an MS browser.

    All of these contributed to creating a monopoly that unfairly locked users into an MS based arrangement. Apple and Linux groups haven’t created these sorts of situations, so they aren’t in the same position as MS and therefore shouldn’t be affected by the EU’s ruling. One hat does not fit all in this case!

  • commandnotapple

    This whole scenario really irks me. Actually, it makes me almost vehemently angry. I am no Microsoft lover. Truth be told, I’m a Mac guy. But I think this is absolutely ridiculous! Microsoft has every right to ship their browser on their OS, even if they both stink!

    I’m sick of this pick on the big, bad Microsoft. Opera is the one that started all this, and Mozilla is(/was?) an ‘observer’! Apparently the new rule is if you can’t beat ‘em, whine, complain, and then sue ‘em. This whole thing reeks of corruption.

  • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

    @commandnotapple:
    It started a long time before Opera. They are the most recent complainant but they have to stand behind Apple, Netscape, Sun, Novell, i4i Software, and more including a little group called the United States of America who first expressed interest in Microsoft’s monopolistic activities in the very early 90’s.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    Microsoft has every right to ship their browser on their OS, even if they both stink!

    I agree that a browser is a fundamental application in any OS, but MS has the power to kill dangerous competitors by shipping free applications with the OS. 15 years ago, people purchased browser software but MS wiped out Netscape by releasing IE for free. (To be fair, the Netscape browser had become shoddy — IE6 problems are minor compared to NS4!)

    The irony is that the browser market is healthier than it’s ever been. I don’t think the browser ballot will make much difference — most people will recognise the blue ‘e’ and click it.

  • IEsux

    Duuuuude IE suuuuucks. Go ask any web developer.

  • zuneone

    Sorry pal,
    I am a web developer and think IE is the browser of choice!

  • http://www.flixon.com jgd12345

    “The list of alternative browsers will be based on 6-month usage statistics and will be reviewed twice per year”

    Does this mean that users will get a choice between IE6, IE7 and IE8 :p.

  • http://www.patricksamphire.com/ PatrickSamphire

    This is simply absurd. It is not in the interests of ordinary users. You buy your new machine, turn it on and … you’re presented with a list of five different browsers. You may not even know what a browser is. You don’t know the pros and cons of each, nor how to make a choice between them. You’ve never heard of half of them. All you want to do is go online.

    *If* you recognise the name of IE, you’ll almost certainly choose that. If not, you might make a random choice, which really is of little use to you.

    Web developers or people who are really into the web might be able to make an informed choice, but most people I know won’t have a clue. This is just an obstacle for them.

    And why stop there? What other components should people be forced to choose between? Why not make the whole process of starting up your computer and 12 hour odyssey as you choose between hundreds of different options you know nothing about?

  • markfiend

    How many MS shills are there on sitepoint? Every article that even looks at MS funny gets overwhelmed with the usual MS FUD.

    where’s the ruling that OS X and Linux must ship without a browser?

    Different GNU/Linux distributions ship with different browsers. There is no single monolithic “Linux”.

  • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

    @PatrickSamphire: Why is it absurd for someone to have to make a choice when they set up their computer for the first time. We make choices all the time. It’s part of what keeps us thinking for ourselves. Isn’t that what democracy and the free market is all about… Freedom of choice?

    @zuneone: IE8 is a decent browser, IE7 is marginal and IE6 is perhaps the worst browser to deal with if you want to build sites that look consistent across browsers & platforms.

  • checazzo

    The reason: IE is integrated into Windows and cannot be uninstalled. That’s how they gained their market share.

    Similar rulings were held here in the U.S.

  • checazzo

    Since no one else remembers these rulings, I’m guessing SitePoints’ demographic is under the age of 20?

  • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

    Yeah,
    Does anybody remember back in the 90’s when they were found guilty of anti-trust laws and the company was almost split up…. Anybody remember that?

    At first I was pretty upset about it being a VB developer and all but then as I learned more about it, I understood that MS had run roughshod through the marketplace, taken things (technology) that didn’t belong to them and forced others out of the market through market manipulation, lobbying and paying off distributors to not use competitors. All in all they have a nasty record and if Ballmer is still involved I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw a chair (Ballmer style).

  • zuneone

    Who cares what browser anyone uses anyway…

    What people care about is content. What is important is the default search engine. That is where the money is.

    Google and Microsoft want Bing and Google to be default search engine. Browsers are free.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @zuneone
    The browser is your portal to the internet. If a single company controls the browser, they can control what you do and see. As an extreme example, Google could make all microsoft.com content fail to render in Chrome.

    After IE6 was launched, MS claimed that the browser was dead and everyone would use internet-connected Windows-based smart clients. There was some logic to the assumption and it also meant Windows retained it’s dominance.

    IE6 had a 95%+ share and holding back browser development was beneficial to the company. Integrating IE in Windows also gave MS immense power over the technical possibilities offered by the internet. Web2.0 apps would be almost impossible to develop using IE6 alone.

    MS did not foresee the rise of Firefox, rich browser-based interfaces, and excellent developer tools. Had Mozilla been a commercial operation, I’m certain that MS would have bought the company.

    We now have a healthy browser market, but the majority of non-technical users still use IE. I’m not convinced that a browser-ballot screen will make a difference, but at least it lets people know that they have a choice.

  • http://www.patricksamphire.com/ PatrickSamphire

    awasson, it’s absurd because it’s only a choice if someone has a meaningful way of making the choice.

    There are basically two groups of web users: the first understands the difference between browsers and the pros and cons. They can and will quite happily download the browser or browsers of their choice. All of us are in that category.

    Then there are those who don’t have a clue about the difference. These people, faced by five names of browsers, will have no useful way of determining the difference. At best they will choose randomly, and that is absolutely no better for them than having a default browser to use. It just causes unnecessary confusion for zero benefit.

    Choice is only useful if it is a meaningful choice based on knowledge. Otherwise, it’s a false facade of freedom and choice.

  • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

    Patrick, I realize there is a group who will not know as much about browsers as our group here does but if they are never presented with a choice then they may never realize that there are more flexible and in many ways better (feature-wise and security-wise) choices for browsing. For instance if I weren’t using Firefox full time, I would either use Safari or Chrome. They are lightning fast and seem to load smoother than IE8.

  • Anonymous

    MS is evil and IE is the mother of all evil. But the EU is plain stupid.

    … where’s the ruling that OS X and Linux must ship without a browser?

    None of them has ever be ruled for illegal practice by the Anti-trust (although apple badly deserved that for years), so it is not a general rule it is a fine and it goes in the right direction because actively promote the use of alternatives and makes it public rather than robbing money to MS in exchange of silence.

    The EU ruling is probably 10 years too late.

    Maybe, but it is still light-years ahead the rest of the world