Microsoft is offering users the upfront option of making Internet Explorer 8 their default browser, or else staying with a rival browser, as part of a Patch Tuesday update. The new version of IE 8 comes as Microsoft finds itself losing browser market share to Firefox and other rivals, and negotiating with European antitrust officials over the inclusion of IE 8 in the upcoming Windows 7.
has issued an update to Internet Explorer 8 that will change its setup experience, presenting users with an upfront choice about whether or not to stick with a rival browser.
The update, which had been anticipated for more than a month, rolled out as part of Aug. 11's Patch Tuesday.
"IE will never install, or become the default browser without your explicit consent," stated Microsoft's original corporate blog posting
on July 16. "However, we heard a lot of feedback from a lot of different people and groups and decided to make the user choice of the default browser even more explicit. This change is part of our ongoing commitment to user choice and control."
After installing Internet Explorer 8, users who already have a rival browser set as their default will be presented with a screen that asks, "Do you want to make Internet Explorer your default browser?" Those who have already set Internet Explorer as their default browser will not see this screen.
"This change applies not only to IE8 installations on Vista and XP, but also when those users with a non-IE default browser install Windows 7," the Internet Explorer team mentioned on the blog. "We will make this change available in the next cumulative security update for Internet Explorer."
Microsoft's push for Internet Explorer 8 comes at a time when the company's Web browser finds itself battling on a number of fronts. Recent reports by research firms have seen the Internet Explorer franchise losing market share to other browsers such as Firefox
; a July report by StatCounter found that Internet Explorer 6, 7 and 8 collectively owned 55 percent of the browser market, compared with 27.73 percent for Firefox. While that's certainly a substantial lead, it represents a notable decline from 2008, when Microsoft occupied 78 percent of the browser market, compared with 18.2 percent for Firefox.
In Europe, Microsoft has also found itself under assault by antitrust regulators, who argued that the inclusion of Internet Explorer 8 with Windows 7 represented a monopolistic violation. While Microsoft originally countered with plans to ship an EU-only version of its upcoming operating system without the browser, it now plans to issue the same version of Windows 7 to Europe that it will issue to the rest of the world.
However, Microsoft is issuing this "regular" version of Windows 7 ahead of a review by the EU's antitrust commission, raising the possibility that it will be forced to issue Windows 7 E after all. Microsoft seems to be betting that the commission will let a browser-equipped operating system hit the market rather than further irritate PC manufacturers and Microsoft's partners.
The battle between Microsoft and the EU is reminiscent of the "browser wars" of the late 1990s, when Redmond faced off with the Department of Justice over the integration of Internet Explorer into Windows 98.