Microsoft 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:
- Microsoft — rather than hardware manufacturers — will control the browser ballot screen.
- Windows 7 E will be provided with Internet Explorer.
- New installations of Windows 7 in Europe will show a web page offering a choice of five popular web browsers.
- 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).
- 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.
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.