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Windows Browser Ballot Screen Is Working — Up to a Point

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Since the start of March, some European versions of Microsoft (s msft) Windows have been delivered with a so-called “browser ballot screen,” a screen designed to give users a choice of 12 web browsers instead of having Microsoft’s Internet Explorer forced on them. But while it’s already bringing new users to alternative browsers, criticisms of the screen are being leveled, too.

The European Commission’s hope for the screen — which is the result of a settlement between it and Microsoft — was that it would preserve healthy competition among web browsers, and promote choices for users. And there are signs that progress is being made toward reaching those goals: Opera Software says downloads of its browser have tripled since the screen’s introduction. Rolf Assev, chief strategy officer for the Norwegian browser maker, told Reuters that the surge in downloads varies from country to country, with particularly strong upticks seen in Belgium, France, Spain, Poland and the UK.

And Mozilla, maker of the popular open source Firefox browser, says some 50,000 downloads of Firefox can be directly traced to the new ballot screen. That’s not a huge number, though, as Mozilla’s CEO John Lilly has confirmed that Firefox typically gets more than half a million downloads a day in Europe.

So the ballot screen seems to be having some effect, but there are also problems with its execution. Most glaringly, as ZDNet has noted, there are 12 browsers listed in the ballot screen, ranging from well-known names such as Firefox to less popular browsers such as K-Meleon, but it only displays five at a time, as seen here:

Six of the seven browser makers whose offerings aren’t displayed on the default ballot screen view have already produced a petition asking the European Commission to deliver a version that shows all 12 browsers at once. There are also complaints being lodged by makers of browsers not found on the ballot screen at all.

Still, despite varying results for increased downloads of alternative browsers, and some problems with its execution, the ballot screen is likely to increase usage of numerous browsers over time. Thus far, it has only reached a minority of European users. One has to wonder if Microsoft may end up being required to offer U.S.-based users of Windows more choice in browsers, too. That’s probably going to be the focus of the next petition from the alternative browser makers, and the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) has already asked for the ballot screen to be repeated around the world.

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9 Responses to “Windows Browser Ballot Screen Is Working — Up to a Point”

  1. To me, this makes no sense. Microsoft make both Internet Explorer and Windows so surely they should be allowed to put their software on their OS?

  2. IE8, you want to talk about giving choices??!! I downloaded this new version, and what did I get but no choice at all but to have MSN as my homepage, and bing as my search provider! Unbelievable. When I change it, and then clean the registry on my computer, BING, there it is again. Every time I run a registry clean up, it does the same thing. Isn’t that exactly what a virus does, hijack your homepage?

    • mgriscom

      WCSD, If you hack the OS configuration (i.e. do a “registry clean up” with some 3rd-party tool) what do you expect?

      I’m sure that with sufficient effort any of us can cause any OS to exhibit undesirable behavior. You might as well drive your Toyota Camry into a concrete divider, then blog “Hey! Those sucky Toyotas crash!”

      • My point is why should I have to do all of that? No other browser does that. How would I clean the registry without a 3rd party tool? If I knew how to do that I still would not like that its default still hijacks.
        And using Toyota as an example? Really? If I drove that Camry into that divider because of a faulty gas pedal, would that still count?

  3. MGriscom

    users always had the choice of any of these browsers. There is no extra “choice” involved.

    This is just the EU giving a boost to the Norwegian company Opera, and putting a thumb in the eye of Microsoft (and Microsoft’s users).

    Microsoft’s problems are all political, anyway. If you read the “Findings of Fact” in the US DOJ case against Microsoft, you will probably realize that there’s nothing there other than Microsoft protecting its intellectual property and protecting user experience with Windows.

  4. I agree with Paul. Microsoft is not treated equal to other operating system and mobile device companies.

    Other companies, like Apple, can get away with not approving Google Voice for the iPhone, but not Microsoft. It would be nice to have another professional browser on the iPhone, but we all know it won’t get approved.

    The law should be across the board for every OS if you’re going to pass it. It’s called free competitive advertising.

    Google should advertise Microsoft Online services on their Google Apps website. It’s only fair right?

    Apple should advertise Google’s Nexus One phone on their iPhone. It’s only fair right?

    Microsoft should advertise Adobe Flash on their Silverlight website. It’s only fair right?

    How professional does this concept really sound? Mr. Rupley you say “…there are a lot of users who will passively use Internet Explorer if it’s right in front of them and doesn’t require any work to use. That’s part of how it got leading market share.”

    Let’s all advertise our competitor’s products and services because…it’s fair right? Somebody help me out here.

  5. I understand why this ballot screen is being used but I wonder if there will be a whole lot of legal creep from this decision. Will the EU need a ballot screen for office products as well? What about instant messaging? I’m sure there are other products that are already installed on the Windows OS made by Microsoft that get more use just because they are pre-installed on the system. But where does it end? At what point can Microsoft just say “enough! This OS is ours dammit! If you don’t want to use it buy a Mac or install a Linux distro!”

  6. @ Anthony, yes there are parts of Europe where Firefox has shown up as the most popular browser. As far as the ballot screen goes, there are a lot of users who will passively use Internet Explorer if it’s right in front of them and doesn’t require any work to use. That’s part of how it got leading market share. So I’m not sure that the issue with the other browsers is that they aren’t good enough to win users over.


  7. Anthony

    This whole ting is getting ridiculous. By most measures Firefox is already approaching or past a 30% market share in Europe, and in some countries it has a nearly 50% share. And Chrome has passed Safari as the third most popular browser overall. Seems to me that people are well aware of how to find and install alternative browsers; if Opera still can’t get any traction, maybe it because people don’t like it. Many of these smaller companies either haven’t done any real marketing or they are not offering a unique enough product to attract attention. What strikes me as funny about the whole situation is that more browsers run on Windows than any other OS.