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Microsoft Abandons Windows E and Reveals the Browser Ballot Screen

By Craig Buckler

Web

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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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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.

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