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Five years ago, Microsoft began offering a choice of browsers to European customers who were booting up a copy of Windows for the first time. It did this in order to settle an antitrust case with the European Commission and avoid a hefty fine.
That commitment – which [company]Microsoft[/company] wasn’t entirely consistent in sticking to — ended on Wednesday. The firm has accordingly axed its browser choice mechanisms, telling users: “Microsoft encourages customers who want more information about web browsers or want to download another browser to do so by visiting the websites of web browser vendors directly.”
Windows is obviously still a big deal, but not as market-dominating as it was back in 2009. Back then, if you wanted a personal computer, you were most likely to buy a Windows PC. As of next year, according to analyst estimates, you’re as likely to buy a tablet instead – though don’t write off the PC just yet, particularly in Europe and the U.S.
The main reason that the European Commission wrung the browser choice concession out of Microsoft was that the company was trying to extend its market dominance past the operating system to the next big platform: the web. It was doing so by making Internet Explorer the default browser in Windows, something that the Commission saw as an anticompetitive abuse of its dominant position.
By removing that default status, other browsers got their chance to shine – it was no longer necessary for users to already know about that other browser and consciously visit its download site on Internet Explorer, for them to be a click away from downloading it. Five years later, Chrome is now the most popular browser in the world.
And the statistics for Europe versus North America, for example, are telling. Looking at desktops specifically, in North America, Chrome has a 41.52 percent share of the browser market and Internet Explorer is in second place with 32.75 percent. In Europe, Chrome has a 47.2 percent share and IE has just 17.53 percent, putting it in third place behind Firefox (on 25.68 percent.) While regulatory intervention isn’t the only reason for this situation — Chrome still beats IE in North America, where there was no intervention — it’s likely to have been a big one. Defaults matter.
The rise of Chrome across the desktop and mobile, with [company]Google[/company] as its default search engine, has become a key factor in Google’s 90+ percent dominance in the EU search market. Now it’s that company’s turn under the Commission’s antitrust spotlight, thanks to its abuse of that position to stamp out vertical search rivals and the like. If the Commission manages to cut Google down to size with whatever the settlement of that case entails, who knows which future monopolist will get the chance it craves?
This article was updated at 9.20am PT with some statistics about browser share, and slightly rearranged around that addition.