EU Drops MS Antitrust, Browser Ballot To Appear In Windows

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft will ask all European users of Internet Explorer whether they want to try out a rival browser. It's an unexpected result in a long-running dispute with European Union officials.

It came as no surprise when the firm announced today that it will include a "browser ballot" screen on all Windows PCs sold in Europe from January 2010, and on. The scheme, which Microsoft had proposed some months ago, will mean that during set-up users will see a list of leading browsers and have the option to install some or all of them, rather than simply getting Internet Explorer by default.

Ball Screen to Appear with Monthly Update

What is surprising is that the firm has also agreed to send out a copy of the ballot screen to all existing Internet Explorer users as part of its monthly software update service. The screen will only go to Windows users who have Internet Explorer set as their default browser, but it's still an odd situation that Microsoft will, essentially, be promoting rival browsers to existing customers.

Perhaps even worse is that they will have to send the ballot screen unsolicited, which runs the risk of irritating those users who've already made a conscious decision to use Internet Explorer. (Source:

Finer Points Delay Final Settlement

While the browser ballot had been agreed upon in principal some time ago, the precise details emerged only after an extended negotiation process.

Microsoft agreed that the screen would be specially designed to have no specific branding; rivals had worried that presenting it as a standard webpage in Internet Explorer would give Microsoft's browser too much prominence.

The deal also means that the five most popular browsers in Europe will appear on the list of choices, arranged in a random order to avoid giving undue prominence to any one. "Apple Safari" would have been first under an original plan to use alphabetical order. (Source:

Users Choose From Top Browsers

The seven next most popular browsers will be accessible in the list of choices but the user will need to scroll along to see them. The full list of 12 will be revised every six months to take account of current market shares. It's not clear if the screen will be sent out to existing users again each time this happens.

The settlement ends a lengthy investigation by the European Union into complaints that Microsoft acted anti-competitively by including Internet Explorer -- and no other browser -- with Windows. At one stage it appeared Microsoft might have to release Windows 7 with no browser at all in Europe, but that has been avoided with this week's agreement.

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