Microsoft Rolls Out EU Browser Choice Screen, Amid Calls for Extra Steps

Microsoft began rolling out its "Web browser choice screen," which lets European users of Windows 7 choose a browser other than Internet Explorer. Designed to settle the concerns of the European Commission, Europe's antitrust regulatory body, the browser ballot screen is being praised by some companies but downplayed by others. One nonprofit organization is suggesting that the ballot screen needs to be instituted for Windows 7 users worldwide, while one browser company is complaining that the structure of the ballot screen favors browsers with more market share, such as Firefox and Chrome, at the expense of smaller players.

Microsoft began introducing its "Web browser choice screen," which presents European users of Windows 7 with a randomized list of popular browsers to choose from in addition to Internet Explorer, on March 1. The measure is designed to assuage antitrust concerns over Internet Explorer 8 being bundled with Windows 7, and while the European Commission-Europe's antitrust regulatory body-issued a public statement approving the measure, operators of smaller browsers seemed to have concerns.

"Web browsers are the gateway to the Internet," Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia wrote in a March 2 statement posted on the European Commission's Website. "Giving consumers the possibility to switch or try a browser other than that included in Windows will bring more competition and innovation in this important area to the benefit of European Internet users. More competition between Web browsers should also boost the use of open Web standards which is critical for the further development of an open Internet."

The European Commission expects that the browser ballot screen will be displayed on more than 100 million PCs in Europe by mid-May.

A Web version of the ballot screen can be found here. Its browsers include Safari, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer 8, Mozilla Firefox, Opera Browser, FlashPeak SlimBrowser, K-Meleon, Avant Browser, Flock, Sleipnir, GreenBrowser, and Maxthon. Underneath the icons and descriptions for all these browsers are two tabs, marked "Install" and "Tell Me More." The more popular browsers, such as Firefox and Chrome, are displayed alongside Internet Explorer, while the browsers with smaller market share are exposed when the user scrolls the window sideways.

Microsoft originally proposed the browser ballot screen in 2009, after months of suggesting that it might strip Internet Explorer from Windows 7 altogether. In a Feb. 19 posting on the Microsoft On The Issues blog, Microsoft's vice president and deputy general counsel, Dave Heiner, suggested that the design and operation of the choice screen had been "worked out in the course of extensive discussions with the Commission."

Starting this week, Heiner wrote at the time, "the browser choice screen software update will be offered as an automatic download through Windows Update for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7. The software update will be installed automatically, or will prompt you to download or install it, depending on which operating system you are running and your settings for Windows update."