Microsoft Sets Date for Windows 'Browser Choice Screen' in EU

Microsoft plans to release its "Web browser choice screen," or browser ballot screen, to Windows users in Europe starting the week of March 1. Offered as an automatic download for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, the screen will present users with a randomized list of popular browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Google Chrome. Microsoft is enacting the ballot screen in order to sidestep antitrust concerns from the European Commission, Europe's antitrust regulatory body, over the bundling of Internet Explorer 8 with Windows 7.

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Microsoft plans to offer Windows users in Europe a "Web browser choice screen" starting the week of March 1, which will present a randomized list of popular browsers for installation on a user's PC. Microsoft originally proposed this "choice screen," also known as ballot screen, in response to European antitrust concerns over Internet Explorer 8 being bundled with Windows 7.

Earlier in 2009, Microsoft had suggested that Windows 7 would possibly ship in Europe without Internet Explorer, in order to sidestep what appeared to be another brewing battle for Microsoft in Europe over antitrust regulations. By November, however, the parties seemed to settle on an automatic ballot screen that would give users the ability to choose Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox and any number of other popular browsers.

"External testing of the choice screen will begin next week in three countries: the United Kingdom, Belgium and France," Dave Heiner, Microsoft's vice president and deputy general counsel, wrote in a Feb. 19 posting on the Microsoft On The Issues blog. "Anyone in those countries who wishes to test it can download the browser choice screen software update from Windows Update. We plan to begin a phased roll-out of the update across Europe the week of March 1."

Heiner continued: "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."

After an introductory screen that explains the function of a Web browser and how the ballot screen will work, the user is then offered a window with a list of browsers to choose from. Those browsers are presented in random order; "Install" or "Tell me more" buttons have been placed beneath each icon, while a button on the bottom of the window lets users "Select later."

"The design and operation of this choice screen was worked out in the course of extensive discussions with the Commission and is reflected in the commitment that Microsoft made," Heiner added in his blog posting. "Users who get the choice screen will be free to choose any browser or stick with the browser they have, if they prefer."

Microsoft and the European Commission, which serves as the European antitrust regulatory body, had seemed close to a deal over the integration of Internet Explorer 8 with Windows 7 by the end of 2009, although a number of the software maker's competitors-specifically, Mozilla, Opera and Google-all reportedly asked the Commission for last-minute changes to the agreement.

Opera CEO Jon Tetzschner told eWEEK in October 2009 that the ballot screen was a step in the right direction, but voiced concerns over the original proposal that the browsers be presented in alphabetical order. "Our thinking is that it would be best to have a random solution, that basically when it comes down to the different browsers that are shown in the screen that no particular order will be followed," he said. "I think that's the fairest solution but, again, we'll leave it to the commission to come up with a good solution."

Consumers will be able to decide for themselves whether it was a good solution come the week of March 1.