Microsoft's EU Browser Choice Screen Faces Commission Petition
Microsoft faces a new issue in its long-running dispute with the European
Commission over the bundling of Internet Explorer 8 in copies of Windows.
Although Microsoft introduced a "Web browser choice screen" March
1 that was supposed to avert those bundling concerns by presenting European
users with a randomized list of browsers, the smaller browser vendors featured on that choice screen formally registered
a petition with the EC March 3.
That petition protests that the browser ballot screen has been structured
unfairly, with the smaller browsers viewable only if the user scrolls sideways.
Browsers with larger market share, such as Apple's Safari, Google Chrome,
IE 8 and Mozilla Firefox, are present front-and-center on
Microsoft is offering the ballot screen as an automatic download for European users of
Windows 7, XP and Vista. Since
the rollout began, at least some of the browsers have experienced an uptick in
European market share; Opera Software, for example, reported that downloads had
more than tripled in major European countries, including Belgium, France, Spain,
Poland and the United Kingdom.
But the smaller browser vendors have nonetheless registered formal
protest with the EC,, the
European Union's antitrust regulatory body.
"It is clear that the final Choice Screen design leaves the vast majority
of users unaware that there are more than five browsers to choose from, reads
the statement issued by the smaller browser vendors, which was signed by
representatives from Maxthon, SlimBrowser, Avant Force, Flock, Sleipnir, and
GreenBrowser. "This is inconsistent with the EU Commissions' stated goal for the
Choice Screen-to provide European consumers with 'information on the 12 most
widely-used Web browsers and to allow users to easily download and install one
or more of these Web browsers.'"
The statement emphasizes that the smaller browser owners want only minor
changes to the feature's design.
"Please know that we are not suggesting any major reevaluation or
redesign of the Choice Screen at this time," it continues, in bold-faced type
for emphasis. "We are only requesting the simple addition of any text or design
element that would indicate to an average user that there are choices 'to the
right of the visible screen.'"
Elements suggested include text on the upper or lower right of the ballot
box indicating the presence of additional browsers to the right; a graphical
element such as an arrow; or a chance to the screen's title text.
The consortium of smaller browser vendors estimates that some 192 million PCs will receive
the ballot screen as part of an automatic update by the end of April. "Therefore, moving quickly to resolve this matter is essential in helping
European users discover and consider the full range of browsers as the
In a March 2 conversation with eWEEK, Flock
CEO Shawn Hardin suggested the importance of
the ballot screen's design to the smaller browsers. "We can't compete with the
sort of money that the top guys have, so this choice screen is enormously
important. And it's just enormously disappointing that it happened this
Microsoft, meanwhile, indicated to eWEEK that the ballot screen
ultimately reflected the EC's thought process.
"The reality is that Microsoft cannot make changes unilaterally to a
browser choice screen that follows considerable industry comment and Commission
consideration of the specific balance between vendors with large market share
and those with very small market share," Kevin Kutz, Microsoft's director of
public affairs, wrote in a March 2 e-mail. "The final version of the
browser choice screen reflects the Commission's strong point of view about
striking the right balance as they saw it."
The EC's decision, released Dec. 16, 2009, and viewable here, includes a number of paragraphs that detail the
reasoning behind the ballot screen's current configuration.
"If the choice screen presented too many Web browsers," the document
reads in its "Procedural Steps Under Regulation" section, "users could be
overwhelmed and as a consequence would be more likely not to exercise a choice
at all, but rather to dismiss the entire choice screen." In addition, "Prominently displaying five Web browsers and seven more when the user scrolls
sideways reflects the market situation."
However, now the proverbial ball is back in the Commission's court.