By Craig Buckler

Microsoft Starts the European Browser Choice Update

By Craig Buckler

browser choiceFollowing Microsoft’s legal agreement with the EU Commission, all European Internet Explorer users will be offered a choice of competing browsers on or shortly after March 1, 2010.

The “Browser Choice” screen (thankfully renamed from “Browser Ballot”) is appearing a couple of weeks ahead of the agreed schedule and testing has already started in the UK, France and Belgium. Microsoft has revealed the following details about the update:

1. The Browser Choice screen will be offered in Windows XP, Vista and 7 to users who have IE set as their default browser. It will be installed through the standard automatic update system.

2. Following installation, a new “Browser Choice” icon will appear on the desktop and the IE icon will be unpinned from the Windows 7 taskbar. An introduction screen will appear which explains what a browser is:

browser choice introduction

3. The user can opt to select later or proceed to the browser choice screen:

browser choice screen

The five most popular browsers are shown in random order — IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera. A further 7 randomly-ordered browsers are available if the user moves the horizontal scroll bar.

4. The system can download and install any number of browsers.

Here’s the best bit: IE6 and IE7 users will be prompted to upgrade to IE8!

Winners and Losers

There’s one obvious loser: the browser choice screen is guaranteed to reduce IE’s market share. Fortunately for Microsoft, anyone uncertain by their choice will be reassured by that big blue ‘e’ icon.

Firefox is perhaps the most familiar and already has a healthy 40% market share throughout Europe. It has the potential to overtake IE’s 45% of the market.

Google Chrome usage is growing steadily and the company has been heavily advertising their browser in newspapers and on billboards. Many people will recognize the logo and the Google name could make it a big winner.

Windows users who also have a Mac or an iPhone may be tempted to pick Safari. However, Apple don’t seem overly concerned about promoting their browser on Windows.

Ironically, Opera — who instigated the anti-trust case — may not experience a significant rise. According to the StatCounter European statistics, its usage has halved from a peak of almost 9% in June 2009. It seems likely that Chrome and Safari have eaten into its market share. I also doubt the Opera name and logo will tempt many users when they’re faced with the choices.

It will be interesting to see how the browser market is affected in the following months.

Is IE your default browser? No — seriously?!! Will you be tempted to try an alternative browser when faced with the choice screen?

  • barrybloye

    I’m starting to feel sorry for Microsoft (and I use Firefox on a Mac). Having to point out that they’re randomising the order the browsers appear is like a sobbing “We’re doing all we can! *sniff* Please leave us alone!”

  • Jack_the_Lad

    Opera is the best mobile browser I have ever used (on Windows Mobile smartphone) – so hope they stay afloat!

    And note that the Microsoft innovative Teachers Network site does not render properly in Firefox! Deliberate or not?

  • To be fair to Microsoft, they’ve given in to all the EU’s demands. But they would have saved time, money, and legal bills had they done so from the start (their original plan was to remove IE from Windows 7 in Europe).

    I can understand the EU’s and Opera’s point of view, but I think the anti-trust case was around 10 years too late. An OS without a browser is now unthinkable.

    However, since Microsoft accepted they broke EU law, shouldn’t they do the honest thing and roll out the update worldwide? It’s only a matter of time before other countries consider fining them.

  • @Jack_the_Lad
    I don’t think there’s any reason to worry about Opera’s finances, but they should take advantage of the browser choice screen. Their browser is great and deserves more attention — but that will only come with major marketing efforts. Unfortunately, they don’t have the unlimited funds Google is throwing around.

  • Anonymous

    The way Microsoft handled themselves on this matter was quite brilliant. They have been getting beaten with a wooden stick with everything that has been going on. Their flawed IE6 product still haunts them, but they truck on. I may be a Mac user, but even Microsoft is starting to earn my respect. Especially with their new Windows 7. Opera is a wonderful browser, and like Craig has said, they do not have the funds to compete. They pretty much spent their own money with this legal battle against Microsoft.

    What makes me truly laugh though, how many of us actually use only one browser? Lets face it every browser has is good and bad qualities. I currently have three browsers. I am curious of the statistics of who uses more than just one.

  • Adelante

    I love the idea of suggesting updating to IE8, anything that can reduce IE6 is a good thing. I think Firefox / Google are going to be the big winners here. What I find funny is that Apple doesn’t have to do the same thing, I guess anti-tust cases are directly related to market share.

  • There’s also a website that mirrors the ballot screen Windows users will see:

    Interesting to check out some of the lesser known alternatives.

  • twenty205

    If they can prompt EU IE users to update IE via this process why not offer just the IE update prompter to the rest of the world? Hopefully they will.

  • Francis Adu-Gyamfi

    I personally wish there were some way to make Opera gain from all their hard work. It’s sad to see browsers like Firefox and Chrome benefit from all the hard work they’ve put in. I certainly pray they reap the benefits of all their hard work some how.

  • @Adelante & @USPatriot

    What I find funny is that Apple doesn’t have to do the same thing

    This has been discussed on SitePoint several times before but, yes, Apple and Linux distros do not have a big enough market share. They cannot unfairly leverage their market position because they don’t control a large enough slice of that market.

    If they became a dominant force, they’d either have to offer a browser choice screen or Microsoft could drop theirs.

    It’s all legal technicalities. Don’t bother trying to apply reasonable logic!

  • willthiswork

    Interesting to check out some of the lesser known alternatives.

    Agreed 100%

    Despite windoze haters, eu haters, microsoft patriots, mac fanboys and other general haters this is a good day and good news.

  • oh dear, this sounds awful. I would find this quite annoying if I was a Windows user. (If I want another browser I can install it myself). It looks as though Microsoft are being punished for the ignorance of some of their users. It also looks as though we will have to worry about supporting yet more browsers: sorry to be such a wet blanket but it’s crazy enough as it is, especially when I am trying to test everything on one mac. I’m interested to see some of these browsers: there are one or two I never heard of, but it could be out of the frying pan and into the fire if some of them don’t keep up with future web standards …

  • @craig

    It’s all legal technicalities. Don’t bother trying to apply reasonable logic!

    Actually it is reasonable but it’s wrapped in anti-trust/anti-competitve law so it’s harder to understand if you don’t really want to think about it.

    Apple has what,… about 5% of the userbase? Given that , they don’t have much in the way of influence so anti-trust law isn’t an issue. That said, nearly everyone I know uses Firefox or Chrome on the Mac. Linux is the same, they have a very small percentage of desktop users so they can offer any browser they choose. They used to offer a broad choice but lately I guess it’s Firefox (I also use Chrome on Ubuntu).

    I don’t think it would really matter for Linux anyway because they have no corporate connection to any particular browser so anti-trust law wouldn’t stick to them.

    I like the idea about prompting IE users to upgrade to IE8. It will be a good day when that browser’s gone from my stats.

  • @stikkybubble

    It also looks as though we will have to worry about supporting yet more browsers

    Not really – the lesser-known browsers use either IE’s trident, Mozilla’s Gecko or the webkit rendering engine. If your app works in IE6+, Firefox 3, Opera and Chrome/Safari, you can be 99% certain it’ll work in all modern browsers.

    I’d love to say the engines are diverging to a single documented standard. Perhaps one day…

  • Balaswamy vaddeman

    Firefox and Google chrome will definitely benefit from the browser choice,as Firefox is already having good market share in Europe,they may even grow bigger with this.I feel EU users will surely try Google chrome,as it is offering good features like offline browsing,safari users may not prefer using the same on windows platform and Opera users will definitely use it because of advanced features like download manager and mouse shortcuts.finally there is a choice for another browsers to grow until unless it releases latest version Internet explore 9 with great features.

  • USPatriot

    I’ll stop giving you a hard time Craig, and I don’t want to be banned from SP. The PG opinion on your post would be, if Microsoft has to play by a rule, so does every other company. I don’t care if the company is a mom-and-pop, or a billion dollar company, evryone has to play by the same rules. Instead, we get the “lets pick on the big guy” syndrome. Who is next? Adobe? Oracle? Apple? Google? Again, can you honestly seperate all of those companys from one another? To me, it seems like big-government, fascist, bureaucrats who want to put their heads into the private industry and regulate EVERYONE.

  • @USPatriot
    The reason they have anti-trust laws is to prevent fascist states where corporations run government.

    As a corporation all you care about is the bottom line and you have a fiduciary responsibility to your shareholders to do so however if you get big (like MS big) your influence can become so great that nobody stands a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving in the same industry. That in itself would kind of limit the small guy from his right to start a business and be successful. So the reason they have these laws is to protect private industry’s freedoms.

  • david

    This issue is not as simple as many would suggest. A piece of software has been loaded onto my machine without my permission, irrepective of the reason why this has happened ie EU directives etc, my machine has been hacked. If I did this to any server owned by Microsoft or the EU I suspect I would end up in court and found guilty of hacking. I have asked for legal advice and expect to take some sort of action. In the meantime I have now switched off automatic updates, a decision I have not taken lightly as I value the security that the Microsoft automatic updates have provided in the past.

  • @david
    I’m not convinced you could argue your machine has been “hacked”. The Windows update process continually downloads software and upgrades your system. There have been problems, sure, but the improvements generally benefit you.

    How is this different? You’ll get a small piece of software which provides information and help about using an alternative browser. You don’t need to use it and, besides, MS allow you to block all updates or refuse an individual download before it gets to your PC.

    Best of luck with your legal inquiries, but I suspect it’ll just cost a lot of money and is unlikely to result in any changes.

  • @david
    Although I don’t agree with everything Microsoft does and strongly disagree with a number of their initiatives, I don’t think there is a hope in hell that you’ll succeed with your endeavor to take them down on charges of computer hacking.

    Auto update isn’t automatically turned on; you have to enable it when you are prompted to by one of the little information boxes. Even the MS Genuine Authentication app won’t run unless you ask it to.

    Unless there’s something else that was maliciously installed, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree but good luck with that.

    On a side note, All modern operating systems Apple, Linux, Windows, etc… have auto updates where patches are downloaded in the background to remove security threats and update drivers for better performance.

  • david

    Wait a minute, yes I agreed to updates being downloaded and yes I made sure it was turned on. I want to be protected against any form of malware/viruses etc. I did not sign up to new pieces of software to be downloaded. I DID not ask to be notified that there are other browsers out there!

    So, given I agree with your arguments, I can upload a program to a Microsoft machine and call it an update! I think not, they would have me in court before you could blink.
    So why do it to me? (as well as hundreds of others who are complaining about this)

  • @david
    The Windows update does not protect you against malware or viruses (although some updates may help). It installs patches or new systems which Microsoft consider are improvements to Windows.

    This is no different. The browser choice update (which can be rejected) explains what a browser is and provides you with a choice. It can be ignored and it doesn’t download or install any software unless you specifically pick a new browser. Even then, it’s downloaded from the vendor’s website – they don’t upload their app to Microsoft.

    I really recommend you don’t spend any money on legal advice, but make an informed decision after you’ve seen the browser choice screen.

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