Windows Browser Ballot Screen Is Working — Up to a Point

Since the start of March, some European versions of Microsoft 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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