Microsoft to Offer Competing Browsers in Windows?

Contributing Editor

011-windows-browsersThe latest European Commission ruling could force Microsoft to offer alternative web browsers within Windows so the computer giant avoids breaching EU competition rules. According to the Commission, Microsoft are exploiting their dominant position to constrain the web browser market.

If the preliminary conclusions are confirmed, Microsoft will be obliged to allow Windows users to choose a competing web browser instead of, or in addition to, Internet Explorer. A possible solution would be a “browser choice” screen during Windows installation or allowing computer manufacturers such as Dell to provide a pre-installed set of alternatives.

The Commission will want to avoid the mistakes it made with the Windows Media Player ruling. In that case, Microsoft were forced to manufacture Windows XP N, a version of the operating system that did not include WMP. There was no price discount and, unsurprisingly, the demand for the product was poor.

However, the alternative browser ruling may not be without its own problems:

  1. How can the European Commission ensure that the list of browsers is fair? Offering IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Chrome would be a logical choice, but there are many other less popular alternatives.
  2. Few novice users understand what a web browser is. How can they make an informed decision and will they be able to reconsider their choice if necessary?
  3. Will other operating systems, such as Apple OSX or Ubuntu Linux, be forced to offer similar browser choices?

Microsoft has until the middle of March 2009 to return their official response to the European Commission and further hearings are likely before a final verdict is announced.

What are your thoughts? Can Microsoft justify an IE-only version of Windows? Will the ruling help or hinder the distribution of alternative browsers?

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  • mwistrand

    As it’s been mentioned on this site before, the average consumer either isn’t informed enough to make a browser choice or just doesn’t care. Thus, I think most people will stick with what they know — Internet Explorer.

  • http://CodePHP.co.uk PHP_Adam

    OUTRAGE!..
    When I get iPhone i should expect now Saffari and IE on their?
    When I get Wii i should expect Opera and Saffari on their?

    Its Microsoft’s product, They should be allowed to |GIVE AWAY| what ever software they want in it to me…
    Leave with a final thought, this Christmas when I buy a Cadburys selection box should I expect their competitors chocolate M&Ms in their? ..

    PHP_Adam

  • javayahtzee

    I think Microsoft should be made to allow computer vendors to choose which browser(s) they install when they ship a computer, but forcing them to install more than one seems odd. When I buy a computer I’d love to have a list of check boxes where I choose what browsers come pre-installed, but what I don’t want is to have 15 browsers installed just because they have more than some tiny percentage of the browser market share.

  • James Leslie Miller

    This is just ridiculous. The biggest problem is your #1. How do they determine what browsers to offer? And how do they ensure those browsers are kept up-to-date?

    Anyone who cares enough to replace IE knows how to download and install a browser. Microsoft doesn’t stop it, or make it difficult. I use Chrome and Safari, primarily, and my Windows experience is not crippled in any way.

    My guess is that the EU sees MS as an easy target; they’re low-hanging fruit that the EU can take out their anti-capitalist, anti-US sentiments upon. I’m not a super-patriot, capitalist fanatacist. I’m just sayin’, is all.

  • http://www.essentialit.com Vinifera7

    I’m not really in favor of this type of legislation. Windows is a product created by Microsoft, therefore they include their browser software. The fact that Microsoft virtually has a monopoly on PC operating systems is the problem. As with any market, the way to make people aware of alternative browsers is to advertise, not to enact a legislation that forces operating system software to provide a choice of browsers. It puts an undue strain on operating system developers. But worst of all, it’s totally impractical.

  • Michael

    The way to break the MS Windows OS/IE browser monopoly isn’t to use legislation, it is to create a better product and make users aware of this – and this is what is being done.

  • JoeJiko

    I work in the computer tech industry.

    *shivers*

    People really have no idea that there ARE other browsers. Internet explorer IS the internet for them. I carry several browser with me on a flash drive and usually offer to install them if they’ve paid for a “PC-tuneup” or software install already.

  • Beaux

    European Commission wants to show their muscles. Politicians do not sleep well at night because they know that they are not producing anything of value for the people. Microsoft produces great values for humanity and that makes politicians envious. Microsoft should stop exporting their products to Europe. I think the European Commission would beg Microsoft to start up exporting again. European Commission has twisted the notion competion to their advantage.

  • http://altoonadesign.com halfasleeps

    I carry several browser with me on a flash drive and usually offer to install them if they’ve paid

    Could that be considered selling them?

  • picasso-trigger

    Wow, that’s bull**** … this is what happens when you leave common sense to judges and lawyers.

    This is a crime against Mircosoft and lawyers will be leaning on this ruling for years to come whenever they need to make things fair for their client in whatever industry.

    If you don’t like Windows, buy something else. What about cd burning apps? Surely this is unfair for Nero.

    What about notepad? I mean … what about the poor notepad alternatives.

    This is a travesty and if you see otherwise, you probably just hate MS in general.

  • Anonymous

    I guess I’d vote against a mandatory ruling like that on principle, but let me tell you what a glorious world it would be (speaking as a web developer) if IE would lose some significant market share. Maybe if they felt like they were in danger of being pushed off the hill they would become more of a team player and get with the standards.

    I’d have to work half as hard, or maybe I’d get twice as much done, if I only had to code for W3C compliant browsers :)

  • Rev

    I am not surprised FF is gaining market share on IE. Its a more smoother, faster and better experience than IE. The more people know about FF,, the more more people will switch. Its a shame for them Google no longer promotes them.

    I am also surprised why Google has yet to offer a Chrome referral program to run on publisher sites. It allowed FF to increase market share through exposure and sign-ups and should do the same for Chrome.

  • http://www.mikeborozdin.com/ Mike Borozdin

    Forcing Microsoft to include other browsers beside IE to Windows is simply stupid. It’s their own product, they can do with that everything they can.

    It’s the same thing as if I develop a Notepad alternative and sue Microsoft because they have already included their own Notepad into Windows, while mine cannot compete with it.

  • israelisassi

    I believe it’s a very bad idea, however, if they start making Ford install Ferrari engines and not raise the price, I might go for that..

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

    Can of Worms.
    Will Microsoft have to package alternative Calculators, Media Players, Firewalls, Document Viewers (XPS, PDF), File Search Tools, Anti spywear, Text Editors, Graphics Programs (competing with Paint), Archiving/Compression Tools.

    Will the user have to select a preference for each of these when installing?

    And if Firefox, Opera and Safari are the packaged choices doesn’t that just mean Chrome and Lynx are now being disadvantaged? Where is the line drawn?

  • abaqueiro

    To be fair, IE should not be preinstaled, so the user has to take the time to get knowledge of what a browser is and what options he/she has.

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

    I think the consensus is that this is just idiotic, and I agree. The original WMP ruling was stupid enough, this is just ludicrous. Unfortunately, while Opera (who I think started this case in the first place) make a good browser, their continual attempts to bash Microsoft and throw lawsuits their way make them look like childish idiots with no common sense at all.

  • http://xslt2processor.sourceforge.net boen_robot

    I’ve said it before at other places where this topic is covered, and I’ll say it again – if IE is uninstallable, that’s good enough for me, and I believe it’s fair to all parties involved (except maybe Microsoft).

    Currently, you can only remove the shortcuts to IE, and you can set another browser as your default one. However, the IE API is still there, and thus applications can use the IE engine and/or invoke IE directly.

    Being able to uninstall IE:
    -Is fair to OEMs, which will be able to ship another browser instead of IE if they wish.

    -It’s fair to browser vendors, which will be able to hook as the default rendering engine and really replace IE as the OS’ browser.

    -It’s fair to careless end users, who don’t care/know about browsers, but want “the internet”. Since IE will be there by default, they won’t miss a thing.

    -It’s sort of fair to Microsoft, since they won’t have to ship a separate version or do special preparations to make sure competing browsers are updated with every release.

  • http://www.sky-web.net/ Dr John

    Totally ridiculous!

    I love using Firefox, but why should Microsoft or any other manufacturer be forced to include rival products in their software? Will Oracle include a free copy of MySQL, Access, Postgres, SQLIte, and every other database you can name when someone buys Oracle? Of course not! So why should Microsoft include lots of rival products with their software? Will they have to include OpenOffice, Abi Office, WordPerfect etc with every copy of Word as well? Or Corel Draw and Photoshop and Paintshop Pro because there’s a copy of Paint included? Or twenty different firewall products because they include one in the OS?

  • Wardrop

    What people are overlooking here is the fact that Microsoft pretty much has a monopoly in the OS market. The problem here is that Microsoft can use this power they have over the OS market to essentially wipe many software companies off the face of the earth (or into the gutters), as an example, what if Microsoft started bundling a PDF viewer with Windows? Who would need Adobe Reader? For this reason, Microsofts needs to conform to strict legislation so they can’t abuse there market power.

    Now, I think this legislation isn’t such a bad thing, and I pretty much have an answer for all three of the problems outlined in the article.

    When first connecting o the internet after freshly installing Windows, users should be prompted to select a browser. The list of browsers available will be pulled down from the net (so browser makers will be able to add their own browser to the list). Depending on the selection, the browser will then be downloaded and installed. That solves problem #1. This information doesn’t need to be displayed in a browser or anything. The application that handles this may just be something titled “Browser Selector”.

    In regards to how a user will be able to make an informed decision. Then possibly, each browser in the list may have an information link. This info link displays information and possibly even an optional video to promote the key features of that browser. This information will need to be provided by the browser makers. This is a valid way for browsers to compete for users.

    As for problem #3, well, I’m no legal expert so it’s a little hard to think of a solution in this case. What I do know however, is that those operating systems are different to Windows in one or two ways. Mac OS for example can only be run on Mac hardware, so this may create an exception (like how the software on your DVD player can only be used on that DVD player; this kind of product probably has a name). Linux on the other hand has many different flavours already (all bundled will various application combinations), and seeing as though pretty much everything for Linux/Unix is free (as far as the actual OS and browsers are concerned), then this doesn’t really apply.

    Anyway, there’s my couple of cents.

  • israelisassi

    If Microsoft were to wipe out the competition, then it would become a monopoly and the government would step in and split them up the same way they did the phone companies.

    Just as some people choose to make their own cars, planes, and motorcycles, others are always free to make their own software, OS, browser, etc. It’s hard to be as financially successful as Microsoft when you give everything away for free.

  • israelisassi

    “abaqueiro Says:
    February 25th, 2009 at 9:42 am
    To be fair, IE should not be preinstaled, so the user has to take the time to get knowledge of what a browser is and what options he/she has.”

    So computers should be delivered crippled? So far everyone I know wants to buy a computer, plug it in, turn it on and start browsing.

    On a semi-side note, should this notion of having to have multiple browser options not also apply to Apple, Linux, UNIX, etc, etc.?

  • viperxx

    Just because Microsoft is bigger doesn’t mean they should be the only one involved.
    Why not Mac or Linux?

  • Biju

    Why cant mac or linux do this? Why alone Windows… I dont construe why people hate MS so much.

  • krdr

    It is funny how nobody pressed MS for Media player before version 9. Older versions was ugly and almost non usable. Version 9 is decent player, so, someone said: “It is monopoly!”, although many other players are used. Apple forces people to use iTunes. It is monopoly for me.

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

    If I remember correctly, it was Real who complained about MS including WMP … and RealPlayer is a lot worse!

    The question is: are Microsoft using their OS monopoly power to destroy another software market? First, is a browser essential to an OS? Many would argue that a browser is an OS given the quantity of web applications. Second, the browser market is healthier than it has ever been with at least 5 major manufacturers. None are making money selling their software but they do receive income from alternative revenue streams.

    Things may have been different if this legislation were introduced 10 years ago. If it does go through, I think Wardrop’s idea is the most likely to be implemented; IE’s first launch would give you the option of visiting a page where alternative browsers can be found.

    Finally, MS have been talking about their own anti-virus solution. How will Norton, Symantec, and the others respond to that?

  • israelisassi

    “Finally, MS have been talking about their own anti-virus solution. How will Norton, Symantec, and the others respond to that?”

    Microsoft has been selling their own anti-virus solution for at least a year called Windows Live OneCare, similar to Norton 360, and basic features include:
    – Antivirus, antispyware, and firewall
    – Wireless networking security
    – Online identity theft protection
    – Performance tune-ups
    – Always up-to-date threat protection and system upgrades
    – Protection without sacrificing speed
    – Simple, automated, and easy to use
    – Manage all your covered PCs from a central hub
    – One-click printer sharing
    – File and photo backup
    – Simple, automated, and easy to use
    – Free support and help

    To my knowledge, no one has complained of this.

  • Beaux

    Ms will never get monopoly. Monopoly occurs when other companies are not allowed to compete with Ms. MS always have competition but nobody can beat them. Governement defintion of monopoly is unfair and made only to benefit the governement economically.You are not allowed to compete with the police, that is pure monopoly.

  • Chris M

    The EU are strapped for cash, Helloooo Microsoft.
    Most users are not techs, nor do they give a crud about which browser is installed. The majority of none-techs who install firefox for instance do so because a tech has put it on their pc or done it for them. Offering them 4/5 browsers is an insane idea; the whole case of course stemming from a Opera complaint (*cough* 1.8% of web users) who seem to think if users have their logo on a screen during install they would select it…

    Microsoft should just stick it in, if that’s what all these morons want; keep the money grabbing fraud that is the EU at bay and see how little difference it makes.
    Offer a windows user a choice of browser and they’re going to click the big blue. Even I’d click the big blue; just so I could easily use windows update without having to install a pile of trash, and also because I know I’d be installing another 5/6 browser once on anyway.

    Stuff user choice, lets force updates and MAKE people upgrade browsers. See how fast that closes the security gap.

  • israelisassi

    I wonder what the response would be if Microsoft elected to not make Windows available in the EU or opted to charge a higher price.

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

    Microsoft has been selling their own anti-virus solution

    There has been talk about them including it in Windows for free. Although that’s possibly less likely now!

  • abaqueiro

    Israelisassi:

    “So computers should be delivered crippled? So far everyone I know wants to buy a computer, plug it in, turn it on and start browsing.”

    Well, to be fair, computers should come with no operating system at all, the OS should be buyed apart, (so users can save 70 dollars they are forced to pay even if they wont use windows) and the end user should install it, so he/she can know that the OS is not part of the computer, know the real price of the Windows OS, know there are options, so he/she not stay with the idea Microsoft is the only one, and if he/she chooses windows, understand the complexity of the installing procedure compared witth other OS.

    Buying a computer is like buying a house, there is no justification for the builder to predeterminate the interior decoration or preinstall the furniture, even when the buyer wants to buy a home, open it, sit on the sofa, and turn on the TV.

  • Anonymous

    viperxx, israelisassi – The difference between MS and Mac/ Linux is that MS has a huge market share and has acted as a monopolist with regard to IE.

    stormrider: Opera didn’t “throw a lawsuit”. It alerted the EU to the fact that MS was behaving in restraint of trade. It’s like phoning the cops if you see someone breaking the law. The cops investigate and prosecute if necessary. The EU investigated and considered that there was a case to answer and asked Microsoft to give its side of the story.

  • ahabion

    Well, to be fair, computers should come with no operating system at all, the OS should be buyed apart, (so users can save 70 dollars they are forced to pay even if they wont use windows) and the end user should install it, so he/she can know that the OS is not part of the computer, know the real price of the Windows OS, know there are options, so he/she not stay with the idea Microsoft is the only one, and if he/she chooses windows, understand the complexity of the installing procedure compared witth other OS.

    I think thats a swell idea. On the flip side, Apple would need to make the Mac OS in the same manner and be able to install it on regular hardware configurations instead of its proprietary hardware builds. I’d like to put Leopard on my custom builds.

  • Jeff Szusz

    I’m a strong advocate of Open Source Software. I really hate Internet Explorer and think users should choose some other option, whether it be proprietary or not.

    However, I think that’s up to the user. If I chose right now to distribute a customized linux operating system, I could choose which browser to put on it. I don’t believe Microsoft should be forced to do otherwise.

  • A2

    I don’t what browser microsoft has as long as they let you remove it

  • jphilapy

    Microsoft should not be bound to offer competitor’s software. However they should be required to make it possible for those who wish to offer their os with other browsers such as dell who may want to provide vista with firefox as the default browser. But MS should not have to be the one to offer it.

    Jeff

  • Mogga

    Its ridiculous to force Microsoft to offer other browsers. If a user is stupid enough to want to run IE only then let them.

  • umeshbagalur

    It is really baseless and ridiculous point the EU forcing the Microsoft to offer other browsers. User is always has choices whatever he wants to install the browsers once he get control on the computer…..