Microsoft Abandons Windows E and Reveals the Browser Ballot Screen

browser ballotMicrosoft’s Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Dave Heiner, has revealed further information about Windows 7 and how the company will comply with European competition laws regarding Internet Explorer.

Windows 7 E was originally intended to ship without Internet Explorer or any other browser. That idea had not impressed the European Commission. Microsoft’s partners and computer manufacturers also expressed concerned that it would lead to product confusion. Therefore, a single version of Windows 7 will shipped throughout the world that includes IE.

Note: no announcement has been made about Windows 7 E pre-orders. Version E was a full Windows installation disk rather than an XP/Vista upgrade which could be pre-ordered throughout July at a 50% discount.

The browser ballot screen is a web page that will be shown to any European Windows user who has Internet Explorer set as their default browser. It will appear:

  • following a new installation of Windows 7 during the first automatic update
  • during a future automatic update of Vista and XP, and
  • whenever the user chooses to return to the web page.

browser ballot screenMicrosoft’s browser ballot screen

I hope that isn’t the final design!

As suspected, IE, Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Opera are offered in decreasing order of market share. IE therefore has the prominent left-most position although I think Firefox and Opera stand out more. I’m certain many people will click Google because it’s a commonly-recognized name.

IE’s market share will almost certainly reduce because the screen is only shown when people have IE set as their default browser. It will not appear if a PC is supplied with a competing browser installed by default. Microsoft accepts that Google, Apple, and other competitors could instigate browser distribution deals with PC manufacturers which they would be powerless to prevent.

To comply with EU rules, the ballot screen shows people that they have a choice of web browsing software and can change their mind at will. Microsoft hopes the European Commission will accept this proposal and will implement the technology when it is officially approved.

Is the browser ballot screen good or bad for user choice? Should it be adopted throughout the world as well as Europe? Has Microsoft been treated unfairly by the EU? Comments welcome…

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  • http://www.daniel-groves.co.uk dgroves

    Good. I think they should summaries the pro’s and con’s of all the browsers and display them though, making it easier for people to make the right decision (i.e. Safari or Firefox) when choosing there browser.

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

    There appears to be a “tell me more” link which probably leads to the vendor’s website. To most users, however, there’s little to differentiate between the top 5 browsers. All do a good job of rendering pages and all are fast enough. Few people will care about the level of standards support or custom widgets.

  • Ketira

    This is such a GOOD idea –why aren’t they doing that HERE in the US?

  • cheekymaori

    its fantastic that Euro’s finally get the option to install any browser they want instead of being rickrolled with the pre-installed IE jazz – crazy much?
    its a step in the right direction however it would be nice if the ballot was rolled out internationally

    id like to think if they are going to this trouble then the least they can do is give the users the ability to make an informed decision by listing the pros and cons to each browser

  • http://www.heyraena.com raena

    Oh, I hope that’s not the final design too. It should be more clear about why the page is being presented — not the whole ‘ooooh, monopoly!’ story, but just a simple explanation of the fact that there are different browsers around.

  • corbyboy

    Most people really don’t care about which web browser they use and a further step will just annoy them.

    If they are forced to, they will just click on the icon they are most familiar with, which for most people will be IE or Google Chrome.

    The thing that confuses me slightly is that the screenshot is taken in IE, but the link under the IE icon says “install”. Surely IE is already installed?

  • http://www.rwtconsultants.com israelisassi

    So Microsoft did what everyone said they should.. They are presenting a screen providing the user a choice of which browser to use.. and still the complaints continue. At this point, it’s essentially complaining for the sake of complaining.

  • Adam

    I do think EU messed up here. Should microsoft then be forced to ship windowsw with ballot screens for the email client, calculator, minesweeper, and the disk defragmenter?

    How do one determine when an application belongs with the OS and when it doesn’t?

  • http://www.pixeline.be pixeline

    … and will Apple have to do it too for mac os x and safari?

    That would be only fair. Yet, i haven’t heard of any such thing.

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

    @Adam

    How does one determine when an application belongs with the OS and when it doesn’t?

    I’d argue that a browser is the single most important application in any OS. Google Chrome OS will (probably) be just that.

    However, the problem for the EU is that Microsoft have used their OS monopoly to monopolize the browser market. Even if browsers are free, MS have (intentionally or unintentionally) held back web innovation for many years.

    I’m not convinced the ballot screen will help. Most PC users don’t know or care what they’re using and will simply click the quickest/easiest option.

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

    So it’s displayed only when a computer is preinstalled with IE, not with any other browser. If a manufacturer installs Firefox, then users get no choice. If they install IE, the users do get a choice. This seems the worst possible option. Why do some get choice and some not? Is this really supposed to be in the interest of users?

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

    its fantastic that Euro’s finally get the option to install any browser they want

    We’ve all always had that option. That’s why I’m typing this in Firefox and have Opera too when I want it. No one makes you use IE.

  • http://www.keystonecapitalchorus.org DaveMaxwell

    However, the problem for the EU is that Microsoft have used their OS monopoly to monopolize the browser market. Even if browsers are free, MS have (intentionally or unintentionally) held back web innovation for many years.

    OK, this is the one argument that’s driven me absolutely bonkers over the years. Why is it so bad that Microsoft includes a browser in with the OS? They wanted people to be able to get on-line quickly and easily, so that meant including a browser (look how the EU balked when they suggested a version without a browser at all).

    I would argue that MS used their monopoly position to cripple the paid products (Wordperfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Lotus Notes, dBase, Paradox) more than the browser market.

    If a browser maker really wanted to get their product on the PCs, they needed to find a way to convince the makers of that. A good example of that would be AOL. For YEARS, they had a huge browser base because their software came installed on most machines and people used them (and hence their browser as it was tied in and people didn’t realize you could use a different one once you were logged in). It wasn’t until broadband became mainstream and they didn’t keep up that they fell to the wayside.

    Yes, you could argue IE held back innovation because they didn’t keep up with the standards, but I still hold that the browser makers needed to be more inventive to get their products noticed…

  • ro0bear

    It’s a good idea BUT if that is the final design I think a lot of users will just think its a spam page and close the window!

    Then there is the problem of those users that know next to nothing about their computer. They might click on say Google Crome not knowing what they are really doing and then get a surprise when something is trying to download, or if they do download it (as a lot of less savvy users think IE is is the internet) there is a good chance they will see that IE has gone and say “oh no my internet has gone”. Or if IE is not removed or at least the shortcut for it is not removed I bet a large number of people who do download a new browser will not realise that’s what it is and will still be using IE, or just use IE out of habit!

    If this is successful, it should be used on every operating system, everywhere in the world.

  • Jared

    For me the issue isn’t what browser is installed by default, but the fact that Windows (the operating system itself) relies so heavily on IE to do stuff. Microsoft should just scrap the whole Windows code and start over from scratch. It would be lighter, faster and would have better features.

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

    @DaveMaxwell

    Why is it so bad that Microsoft includes a browser in with the OS?

    It’s not … unless the regulator considers that MS abused their market position by doing so. (That’s why Apple isn’t affected by the ruling at this time).

    This case isn’t directly about browsers. MS created a free browser within Windows that wiped out most competitors. Holding back innovation also meant that web applications were harder to develop and Windows applications were often a better solution. Using your monopoly to destroy a potential competing market is the problem.

    I would argue that MS used their monopoly position to cripple the paid products

    So would the EU … that’s why they were fined several billion and forced to share Windows source code with competitors.

  • zuneone

    I’d love to see it backfire on the EU and most people end up using IE8!

  • http://www.northwinddesign.com allspiritseve

    Microsoft should just scrap the whole Windows code and start over from scratch. It would be lighter, faster and would have better features.

    I would prefer that Microsoft stop trying to make big name releases, and move to an iterative development model where they make small incremental releases every 6 months to a year. Good software doesn’t come from fancy new features, it comes from improving on tried and true code that works.

    Another good thing they could do would be to release their code as open source, or use Unix at the core like OS X. However, that’s just wishful thinking.

  • Tom

    It is crazy! Microsoft did good deals, moves in the past (GOOD FOR THEM) and that is why most people have IE. Forcing company to advertise other browsers it is crazy idea. Think how would you feel if after years of work your company would grow really big and someone will tell you ok if you have new customer for web design you have to tell him about your competition, because they are not doing so well…I’m not saying it is good that IE has so big share of market, but come on maybe when you visit google.com they should display option to use different search engines too – because in my opinion they are too big. BTW i run small search engine (for fun) but you know what i think because of google i can not make it really popular, lets make google to display may logo & link to my search engine on main page !

  • Leo

    Unfairly?

    List all the times Microsoft slowed down the adoption of *any* standard, erase off half of them and you still get an amount of profit-oriented choices that tend to infinity.

    Please…

  • http://www.keystonecapitalchorus.org DaveMaxwell

    It’s not … unless the regulator considers that MS abused their market position by doing so. (That’s why Apple isn’t affected by the ruling at this time).

    This case isn’t directly about browsers. MS created a free browser within Windows that wiped out most competitors. Holding back innovation also meant that web applications were harder to develop and Windows applications were often a better solution. Using your monopoly to destroy a potential competing market is the problem.

    See, that’s the part of the argument that bothers me. Just because they have a larger market share, they weren’t allowed to create a more robust and complete product? And at the time IE was released, it was a superior product to the other major player in the market (Netscape) – who would have benefited if IE didn’t come into the market? I’d argue that we’d be worse off if IE wasn’t released.

    Don’t get me wrong – I don’t condone some of the business practices that Microsoft employed to get to where they were before the DOJ and EU got involved. But to provide free advertisement to the products from other companies seems ridiculous to me – especially when the other OS makers are not being forced to do the same. I still don’t see how Apple is any different with OS X – it comes with Safari installed. Why don’t they have to provide the other options that are there for their OS? And no, the percentage of marketshare argument doesn’t fly for me.

    And what’s going to stop EU there? What about paint? Or windows media player? Or the photo gallery software? Why not make them advertise all the competitors for all of their included products?

    People gripe about the time it takes to get Windows up and running with all the patches. Adding this layer of complexity to it will just cause more delays, and of course Microsoft will get blamed for it….

  • http://www.stickytoffee.co.uk Sticky_Toffee

    I’d love to see it backfire on the EU and most people end up using IE8!

    I’d love to see it backfire on Microsoft and most people end up not using Windows!

  • http://www.rwtconsultants.com israelisassi

    Given the number of employees Microsoft supports, and the billions of R&D spent annually, I think it’s a shame and insane that Microsoft is forced to advertise “competitors” products for them.

  • volomike

    I like the idea.

    However, I think the software vendors will argue on who is left-most on the screen. I hope they plan to randomize this, and not monkey with the random algorithm in their favor.

  • zuneone

    I hope Microsoft installs Bing as the default search engine in all the browsers on the ballot.

    Afterall this is about browser, not search engine.

  • A Giant Slor

    The ballot should say Apple Safari, not just Safari. Lots of people would be interesting in trying out a browser from Apple.

  • Dave Keays

    I thought the main point of legal contention was the OEM licensing which I believe didn’t allow OEMs to include competing products. MS never stopped me from installing other brosers and email agents, but did stop FF from being pre-installed on machines.

    Technically, I would like to be able to farm all internet activities through the program of my choice. When Windows explorer accesses the Internet I believe it uses the IE API so I need to keep IE up-to-date even though I rarely use it.

    EU requiring that all of MS’s business practices complies with the EU standards is absurd. EU should realize that their jurisdiction isn’t international and quit acting like the old British or Spanish Empire. MS should tell them where to shove it.

  • Richard

    I like the principal behind the idea, and the fact that web-developers (amoungst others) will benefit greatly from it. However, I think it’s stupid, unjustified and biased.

    It’s already been mentioned that Apple do the same with Safari, so why don’t they have to? If you’re going to rule to make something wrong for one, you make it wrong across the board.

    At the end of the day, those of us who care enough about the browser we use, know sufficient to go out and find an alternative that suits us, there’s no need to tell everyone they have the choice every time they start up IE for the first time after installing Windows – most people do not care or will be confused further by it.

    As it’s been mentioned Microsoft should stop relying on IE for Windows updates etc. Make the updates cross browser compatible and make us all happy!

    And in response to the post about the companies gripping over who gets the left spot – it’s Microsoft’s product so they get the best spot! The other companies should be pleased they have a spot at all! (FYI I use Firefox)

  • Anonymous

    im a firefox user, but i think if MS want IE in their OS its up to them, they have been treated unfairly by EU, for example why Ubuntu doesnt come with screen like this ?
    Windows OS is ‘good’ cuz of the software that comes with it, which is WMV+IE+MovieMaker+MediaCenter+PhotoGallery+…etc, so they should introduce it with IE and its always up to them
    Windows comes with IE
    Ubuntu comes with FF(also many other distros)
    Mac comes with whatever they come with …
    if anybody want bigger market share, they should EARN it
    im always for FF but i still dont think this is fair
    its like you cant win so you start biting …

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

    “MS have (intentionally or unintentionally) held back web innovation for many years”

    IE6 would not have been followed by years of stagnation had the US Department of Justice not taken Microsoft to court over including IE with the operating system and threatened to tear the whole company apart over it.

    That’s what led to the disbanding of the IE team and IE falling behind standards, when it previously was the front edge, implementing standards first and creating new technologies (like AJAX) that moved the web forward.

    It’s the United States government that held back web innovation for years, for interfering in the market; had they not done so, Internet Explorer would have continued to move us forward the same way Microsoft moved computing forward on every front for so many years.

  • Anonymous

    maybe when you visit google.com they should display option to use different search engines too

    Sorry but it is entirely another matter. Your pc doesn’t get shipped with google on it. Nor does your internet access. Any application you may want to use or website you want to visit will work properly regardless of google. Same can’t be said for IE6.

    I’m not convinced the ballot screen will help. Most PC users don’t know or care what they’re using

    That’s what Ms thought until Firefox and a vocal community kicked them in the bum

    and will simply click the quickest/easiest option

    Can’t force people to use a browser by law. Anyway as a lot of people pointed out Google Chrome will probably benefit a lot from the ballot screen. I see small gains for Safari too.
    Until today the vast majority of people in the world think that:
    1) Safari is some kind of weird tour in an African National Park
    2) Chrome is a metal or something like that
    So the ballot screen will do what Apple and Google badly failed to achieve:
    bring the attention of a wider audience on their browsers.
    Why is MS itself proposing that? Because they got such a bad reputation cause of IE6 that they got nothing to loose. All in all it is a fair proposal. Eu should accept.

    With regard to the other post on British Institutions not allowing people to use anything but IE6: this is a pain in the neck for MS as well. Tying an internet application to a specific browser (and version) is nowadays commonly known as plain wrong and poses serious BC problems on any future development.
    In fact the .net framework is the biggest step towards real interoperability ever done by any software company and at the same the biggest attempt to build the greatest monopoly ever, but this time playing by the rules.

    IE6 would not have been followed by years of stagnation had the US Department of Justice not taken Microsoft to court over including IE with the operating system and threatened to tear the whole company apart over it.

    Here is a matter of taste. I wouldn’t exchange democracy and free but fairly regulated market for Ajax, but you know people are different

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

    @Dan Grossman
    The disbanding of the IE team had nothing to do with the DoJ case. After all, MS never did remove IE from Windows.

    The reason IE stagnated was because MS did not believe the browser was a viable platform for web-enabled applications. They saw smart clients being the future: Windows apps such as MS Office using web services. That was obviously beneficial to them too.

    MS announced that IE6 would be their last standalone browser and new versions would only be released within the OS (Vista’s lateness was also partially responsible for them taking their eye off the ball).

    If the DoJ case really had an impact, then why did MS reform the IE team for versions 7 and 8? MS are now committed to making a good browser, but the reason for that is the competition and the rise of decent web applications.

  • stevieg_83

    I still think that the vast majority will go with IE. Why? Unless you’re technical then it’s what you’re used to and what you know.

    Unless techies take the time to explain the benefits of using another browser, it’s a pointless exercise.

  • Stevie D

    It’s already been mentioned that Apple do the same with Safari, so why don’t they have to? If you’re going to rule to make something wrong for one, you make it wrong across the board.

    This case arose because Microsoft were deemed to be abusing their monopoly in the computer industry. Apple don’t have a monopoly (apart from maybe in a handful of very specialised fields), so the situation is different.

    In the UK we have the Competition Commission, which investigates issues where one or more companies are believed to be acting in a way that abuses their position either through a monopoly or anti-competitive practices such as cartels.

    Where a company is not in a monopolistic position of power, these organisations have no role to play, because they are simply competing entries in the marketplace. It’s only when one company gets too big and is danger of being able to manipulate and distort the marketplace that – for the good of the customer, the economy and the market – the regulatory bodies step in.

  • Adam

    I’m with corbyboy, This is wrong to me. Does your average user who wants to check their email, look at holiday prices and read the BBC news actually give a damn with what piece of software lets them do that?

    If one of the guys in my office got presented with this screen after installing windows they’d be thinking “what the frick do I do? what are all these logos? where is my email?” and probably “whats a web browser?”

    it seems to me that to please some idiots in suits they’ve forgotten about the user. My dad got his first laptop a month ago, I tried to explain why he shouldn’t use IE6 (preinstallation) but he just doesn’t care. He just wants to check his email and he knows IE6 can let him do that.

    Install a browser, any browser, then get out the users way. Don’t put a barrier in their way to actually doing something productive or confusing them.

    It’s only when one company gets too big and is danger of being able to manipulate and distort the marketplace that – for the good of the customer, the economy and the market – the regulatory bodies step in.

    While I agree with this, I think that in this case its not for the good of the customer. It’s for the good of the suits.

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

    @Stevie D
    That’s spot-on. MS were able to manipulate another market (the web) using their monopoly position in the desktop OS market. It’d be like a popular car manufacturer forcing you to stop at particular service stations for fuel and coffee.

    I’m not convinced Microsoft deliberately set out to scupper the web, but unintentionally wiping out competitors and holding back browser development is no defence. Web applications threaten MS’s core market; they need to be careful if they don’t want to attract the attention of the regulators.

  • jonas-e

    I like it – it may not be the perfect solution – but does anyone out there have better suggestions?

    I mean, if the OS comes entirely without a browser, you wont be able to download and install one in the first place ..

  • Anonymous

    I really think this is a bad thing. As stated before, the average user will not give a hoot what browser they are using and nine times out of ten, when asked what browser they are using, they will point to an icon and say “That one…”

    They want a real simple choice, anything that gets in the way or looks too complicated will scare or confuse. Maybe that is what the objective is, smoke and mirrors to justify ‘help lines’ from PC manufacturers at a premium rate.

  • markfiend

    EU requiring that all of MS’s business practices complies with the EU standards is absurd. EU should realize that their jurisdiction isn’t international and quit acting like the old British or Spanish Empire. MS should tell them where to shove it.

    Microsoft is perfectly at liberty to “tell the EU where to shove it” as long as they no longer wish to trade in the EU. However, they (and you) should recognise that doing business in the EU necessitates playing by EU rules.

  • jonas-e

    No, the average user does not give a “hoot” which browser they are using – which is exactly why MS got away with stopping development and not supporting standards. The browser was already there, and the average user did not have to make a choice.

    Just like if we were all driving e.g. Toyota cars, they could get away with stopping development of safer, cheaper and more sustainable cars. Who suffers in the end? The average user!

    Even if the average user does not give a hoot – we have to force them to make a choice – for their own sake.

    Just like it doesn’t really matter which car you drive – they’re all the same anyway. Still, the average consumer must make a choice – even if the cars are similar.

    That’s the whole point of a competitive market giving us better cheaper and safer products. No choice = no competition …

  • http://www.rwtconsultants.com israelisassi

    I believe Nissan Altima’s are the ultimate cars, especially after 215,000+ miles with relatively minor trouble. It’s been a safe, stable, reliable car therefore I believe that it should be the only car everyone chooses so I will tell them all other cars are junk and to avoid them.

    No… that’s not the route I want to go.. I actually have zero customers who prefer Firefox after trying it..

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

    The absurd thing is that the EU and many commentators here claim to be so in favour of “competition” and yet when it looks like someone might win the competition, they won’t allow it. Maybe we should apply the same rules to football matches. If one team looks like their going to win, they get the wall taken away from them. So, folks, do we want competition or not? (Personally, I’m all for ‘not’, but then I’m an old lefty, and look at capitalism in a jaundiced way.)

  • http://www.assemblysys.com/dataServices/index.php mniessen

    I think this will cause unfair competition in favor of non-IE browsers because, since IE will be the only browser to have that ballot screen, the only way it can go is for IE to lose market share.
    If you ever start a business, don’t try to be the best at what you do (whether it is making the best product or being the best at selling it), because you will be punished for it. What a great lesson to teach our kids!

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

    If Microsoft weren’t a publicly traded company that would get sued and dismantled by its shareholders if it did so, I bet some of the executives would be in favor of pulling out of the EU for a while over the ridiculous way they’re being treated. It’s costing them hundreds of millions a year, minimum, to deal with the European Commission and its rules.

    What’s after the browser ballot? From what Microsoft just published, it looks like a “choose a preferred file format ballot” in Office apps…

  • jonas-e

    So what better suggestions are out there to make the internet a better and more standard complient place?

    I think this part above is good news:
    “Microsoft accepts that Google, Apple, and other competitors could instigate browser distribution deals with PC manufacturers which they would be powerless to prevent.”

    So it becomes a choice of the manufacturer how to configere it. It’s been great to see lately how more mass-consumer PCs come preinstalled with a Linux OS as e.g. Acer’s mini-laptop. More of that, please!

    But how do we encourage the manufactureres to produce PCs with a greater variety of configurations – be it OS or browsers or whatever?

  • IEasDefault

    wow. I would just install IE as the default browser but allow users to remove it. I mean, when i install OS X on my mac, do i get an option which browser i want to install? I always have to have Safari — makes sense to me. Safari is apples browers. IE is microsofts browser. I am glad though that IE is no longer so closely tied to the OS that i can’t be removed.

  • lishyguy

    I like the idea of choice, but I think the browser ballot screen is the wrong way to go about it. Personally I don’t mind all that much if IE is installed by default; it’s when the OEMs are being restricted to only putting IE on which is the problem. If different OEMs were allowed to ship Windows with different browsers then it wouldn’t be an issue.

    On this note, Apple are allowed to keep Safari installed by default as they are the only manufacturer: all Apple products are made and distributed by Apple, not Dell, Packard Bell, etc. Ubuntu ships with Firefox, but this is just when you download it from the Ubuntu website or from one of the many torrents of it. When you buy a disc of Windows you get what Microsoft wanted: IE, Windows Media Player, Windows Movie Maker, etc. That’s only fair.

    On the issue of when a program is part of the OS or not, I can’t answer it fully, but here’s my say. Linux distributions are arguably the operating systems where you have most choice. Everything can be changed, or a different program can be used: I can choose Firefox, Epiphany or whatever else (Firefox for me); I can choose Rythymbox, Songbird or Amarok (music players); I can choose Nautilus, Konqueror or Dolphin. The last ones are the file manager. I can choose everything apart from the very core packages, which include ubuntu-standard and ubuntu-desktop. Those packages are the ones which make Ubuntu Ubuntu and not Debian or Fedora, or Slackware. Not the programs.

    What I’m trying to say is that this model could possibly be used by Microsoft. The kernel remains the same throughout for Windows, much as Darwin would for Macs and the Linux kernel does for all the Linux distributions. Then you have the core packages which manage running programs and the APIs and stuff, but after that everything could be changed.

    Then again, I’m a Linux user, so I’m used to all the choice and customisability. Also, Microsoft will almost certainly not want to open up their software that much. It was just an idea…