Vendors Push for Fairer Browser Choice Screen

By Craig Buckler
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browser choicePoor Microsoft — they must be wondering when it’s all going to end. Their browser choice screen was launched on 1 March following costly EU legal shenanigans. Statisticians then reported that the random browser display was not as random as it could be. Now the makers of Avant, Flock, GreenBrowser, Maxthon, Sleipnir and Slim have complained to the EU about the visibility of their browsers.

The vendors state that it’s not immediately obvious there are further browser choices beyond the initial five displayed on the choice screen:

Microsoft Browser Choice Screen

You can see their point — anyone with a smidgen of web design experience knows that horizontal scrolling should generally be avoided.

The petition concludes:

The final Choice Screen design leaves the vast majority of users unaware that there are more than five browsers to choose from.

We are only requesting the simple addition of any text or design element, that would indicate to an average user that there are choices to the right of the visible screen.

Microsoft has reiterated that the screen was in built in accordance with the European Commission’s demands.

In my opinion, no vendor will ever be 100% happy with the screen — even if Microsoft succumb to their wishes. Offering 12 browsers is slightly ridiculous and few novices will appreciate such an overwhelming choice.

What’s worse is that several of these applications have been rated as “shockingly low quality” in a recent PC Pro review. With the possible exception of Flock and Sleipner, many users could abandon their new slow and ugly browser, return to IE, and never try another alternative. That’s not what the EU wanted to achieve.

At least the top 5 browsers give users a choice of good-quality software which has been tried and tested by millions. The alternatives may have good points, but they’re less popular for a reason — and they do not offer the same level of support.

The horizontal scroll bar may not be good design, but it’s a reasonable compromise between offering everything and keeping the screen simple. I’m not convinced it should change. Are you?

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  • Jean-Sébastien Dussault

    One easy solution: put all that in a drop-down list and get on with it.

  • Ethan

    I’m sure it shouldn’t change. If a user happens to realize there are more browsers to the right, fine, but no one wants them to except the developers of those browsers. As a designer, I want people to try Chrome, Firefox, and Safari (or even Opera, ugly as it is) and like their new browser and stick with it. The very worst effect that can be had here is for IE users to become more entrenched in their unwillingness to migrate to a healthier browser.

  • @Jean
    I don’t really think that solves anything. Besides, vertical browser lists were rejected because it gives too much prominence to the top option.

  • Anonymous

    “Now the makers of Avant, Flock, GreenBrowser, K-meleon, Maxthon, Sleipnir and Slim have complained to the EU about the visibility of their browsers.”

    The EU has opened a can of worms. And IMO this is typical of the crass incompetence displayed so often by these idiot Euro-crats.

    BTW, I have just developed my own browser. It’s called SHITE. But it’s not shown on the MS screen. This isn’t good enough. I’m gonna complain. I want my browser shown BEFORE Chrome. After all, I am tax-paying European.

  • The list should really have been limited to the first five anyway. The others don’t seem worth the effort. As a web designer I test for the main five but hadn’t even heard of the others until this issue arose.

  • Michał Czernow

    I think this example shows perfectly that there is no good solution for differentiating browser market by force. Making MS to add this window is arguably reasonable, and only makes users confused and MS having problems with pleasing everybody. Aren’t these a bit fake problems, not the real ones?

    What about other operating systems? If browser choosing window is a good practice, shouldn’t Apple add it to its OS?

  • Peter M

    What is really the point in complaining anymore… 80% of the users have been through this screen by now. I totally agree with your opinion.
    Instead of showing this screen once, they should incorporate the whole thing in the OS as a sort of setting. But with the feature that people can add reviews and a rating to each browser, just like apple is doing in the appstore. Then sort them by rating and let the companies fight for their position in the list. More competition = better browsers.

  • Anonymous

    Will chromeOS include a browser choice window? I think not. The EU has no idea what they are getting into with dictating this window.

  • @Peter M
    I think the screen is always available via a new desktop icon. In fact, I’ve still been offered it in Windows 7 even though IE isn’t my default browser.

    A ratings system is a nice idea, but it’d be difficult to police. If IE scored the highest rank, everyone would accuse Microsoft of rigging the result. Also, it would be easy for Google, MS and Apple to ask every employee to submit their vote.

    I think it’s best they keep it simple. No solution will ever please everyone.

  • vance dubberly

    Ya I’m sorry but I’m a pretty up to date web developer and I’ve never heard of most of those browsers. So if you’ve not done anything interesting enough to get the attention of a person who reads about browsers every day then stop whining and start coding.

  • @vance
    The only one which was new to me was GreenBrowser, but I hadn’t realised most of them were still around.

    As the PC Pro review points out, several are just IE hit with an ugly stick. (And at takes some effort to make IE look worse!)

  • Well I don’t think the screen is going to make a difference any which way. If you look at the stats given at the link below, it show that Firefox is down a little and all other browsers are up (including IE).

    I am looking forward to seeing the net applications data when that comes out for March.

  • mikebrady

    Why not change the horizontal scrollbar to a vertical scrollbar and still have only the top 5 appear in the window, allowing the user to scroll down to see more options?

  • I think they should leave it as it is. Do the minimum to satisfy the EU and nothing more. The screen shouldn’t exist in the first place, and the EU’s recent war against Microsoft is a waste of time and money, and completely unnecessary, driven by bitter software makers (such as those at Opera…) who just want to get some attention themselves.

  • commandnotapple

    The solution is simple: get rid of the window. I’m tired of this already!!! I really wish Microsoft would tell the EU to do something with their stupid mandates. IE is a mess of a browser to be sure, but only Microsoft has the right to decide whether they make it the sole browser available on their system or not. I’m sick of this already.

  • KMdev

    No, we (K-Meleon Developers) did not complain and did not sign the petition. We couldn’t care less if K-Meleon was on the choice screen or not, let alone where.

    Get your facts straight

  • @KMdev
    Many apologies for the mistake. There are many reports that K-Meleon was involved, but I’m happy to put the record straight and have amended the article.

  • kmd

    thanks for rectifying that error

    i’d like to address some misconceptions about the browsers displayed on the choice screen and the choice screen in general

    first of all, just because you personally(or your circle of friends) have never heard of browser x, does not mean that those browsers are inferior or like some one mentioned ‘work on your code’.

    many browsers there-all selected by microsoft according to usage statistics and not by the EU commission- use the trident engine(IE). since that is a proprietary software, they do not have much choice to work on their code rather than work on the container hence they are usually referred to as IE shells and not as full browsers- when the engine is not included in the download package.

    the reason mr. buckler that those browsers are lesser known is very simple: marketing. some of the devs of those browsers either focus on certain markets or do not care about marketing at all.. and i can speak for k-meleon in that case. we never cared about marketing and we never will because there is no gain in it for us.

    all browsers offered are freeware? what gain? well, they are not exactly freeware since they do collect a royalty off every user..whether that’s with consent or not is not the issue.. so ;freeware; is a rather loose term here. but as for 2 browsers i know they don’t have anything to gain from increased user base are ours k-meleon and sleipnir. all the ‘big’ names have a lot of money to gain or lose with an increase or loss in the user base.

    some of you never heard of maxthon..that’s alright but that doesn’t change the fact that that browser is the second most popular browser in china giving it a global user base larger than opera and chrome combined. in all fairness maxthon should have been on the first panel instead of opera or safari(both now behind chrome) but since opera was the company that pushed for antitrust suit aginist ms with the EU commission there was no way it will be on the second panel regardless of its userbase. firefox which is still the second most popular b in japan is losing fast to sleipnir and very soon that latter will take over firefox’s place in japan.

    you never heard of those 2? trust me..the developers don’t care, they focus on their local markets and they are doing a great job.

    now k-meleon.. if you never heard of k-meleon then-and i’m not trying to be bias- but you should seriously consider your title as web developer or designer. i’d understand if the mainstream would have never heard of k-meleon but as a tech person that is quite shameful.

    if you never heard of those 3 browsers: camino(chimera), k-meleon or galeon..then you should seriously consider some reading in the browser wars history. those 3 projects started around the same time- about a decade ago- right after netscape decided to make their nglayout(pre-gecko)engine opensource and before mozilla was born..let alone firefox(phoenix which saw light in 2003).

    those were the first 3 browsers that used the gecko engine when netscape went opensource. so? big deal? there’s now a much better browser called firefox.. right? no..very wrong. those 3 exist for a reason, only a non-firefox fanboy could be able to understand. if they were terrible projects or pointless as most of you seem to believe they would have never survived to this day albeit that they do not collect money from users via search engine/ad revenues.

    without getting too technical for you guys.. firefox or mozilla products in general(like seamoneky. songbird etc) use a runtime to make their interfaces called xul. it’s not natural and it has incorrigible memory leaks and resource bugs in general.. think of it as running a program through an emulator… it’s slow, it handles your resources badly and after a prolonged period you must restart that program. that xul approach with all its endless flaws makes it easier for mozilla developers to make cross-platform code(it’s their easy way out to code less and produce more for operating systems).. not a good way but it works for them.

    the approach in camino, k-meleon and galeon is very different..they decided to use the gecko engine in native interfaces for their operating systems. so camino uses cocoa lib to make a proper browser for mac osx, k-meleon uses the windows cairo api to make a browser tightly integrated in the os that respects the system resources and galeon with the same concept uses the gtk+ api to make a browser for the gnome desktop for linux distors.

    some people prefer that to xul..especially those who understand about programming and how it’s much better to code using the os natives instead of using a runtime like xul(which is by the way one of the worse runtimes when it comes to memory leaks) or simply they want to be able to use their browsers with other software running like photoediting etc without their operating system choking.

    if you don’t like that and prefer the xul pseudo interface..that’s great but you should not dismiss anything just because you never heard of it and because it isn’t firefox.

    and this can be apparent in either half-witted reviewers or paid reviewers who quickly attack any gecko browser that isn’t firefox and label inferior when in fact if they were real software techs or knew anything about programming they would have known that a browser x using the same engine as browser y, will render same pages just the same and at the same speed and some even ignorant reviewers may tell you that ui is “outdated” not even distinguishing between a ui and a skin..where as a ui of a native browser is the same as your os.. but if you don’t like the default skin, it’s just a personal preference and you could have taken a few minutes to surf to that browser’s skin page and choose another one

    as for the so called designer who claims there’s no point testing pages in the other browsers..well as a designer, you should know that when you test pages; it’s the engine that counts not the brand. and there are only 4 engines out there: gecko(firefox, k-meleon, ephipany, camino, flock, seamonkey, orca, galeon), trident(ie and shells), webkit(safari, konquerer, chromium, arora, qtweb, dooble) and presto(opera).

    this simply means, if you test a page in safari..they you don’t need to test it in google’s chrome or chromium..cause it will render the exact same so now it’s pointless love. same with gecko, if you test with seamonkey for example, they you needn’t worry about testing in firefox or k-meleon or any other gecko cause the outcome will be the it?

    of course you might want to fix that ancient browser sniffer you probably use and start developing websites like a pro, but that’s a story for another day but you can start learning there:

  • Anonymous

    Wow, that is a lot of quality info kmd.
    I’ll stick with IE8 though.

  • Dani

    @Craig : Thanks for the load of info. Nice stuff to know about.