EU browser ballot: Will universities let students choose?

Summary:Windows users will soon be patched to bring up a browser ballot box, to allow the user to pick a browser to use. How will universities deal with this?

The European Commission has spoken. Microsoft will be issuing an automatic update during the next couple of weeks to all EU users of Windows, to allow them to choose a web browser.

As a result of the anti-trust case by Opera, Microsoft is now obliged to offer the top ten browsers available for Windows in competition to pre-installed Internet Explorer, which still holds the highest browser market-share worldwide.

My question is how will universities react to the news, and will they either be forced to enact this EU directive, will they choose to allow students to select and install their own browser through personal choice, or will they block the update to ensure all systems remain as they are without bureaucratic interference.

From the technical side of things, the update could be rolled out to every computer, therefore user (the student) on campus. This would require some efforts on behalf of the student to select their preferred browser. But even though the majority of university computers offer a free reign experience, students often don't have the desktop security permissions, registry access or even storage space to install browsers. This would have to come from the top down; for the IT teams to determine a browser or selection of browsers and have them on offer on login.

I have explored the possibility of a non-Internet Explorer alternative in the university environment. It didn't really go down so well. At the end of the day, as a Microsoft technology, IE can be controlled behind the scenes far easier than Firefox or other browser. And with policies and updates, it makes sense from a technical point of view to keep IE where it is.

But the European Commission disagrees, and so universities must do something. Either accept the update and let users - the students - choose, or don't accept the update and keep everything as it is.

But this is what student unions are for. The UK has a very popular, widely used student union culture, whereas many other countries and states do not so. For us, if students wanted the choice of another browser - one which broke away from the mould for whatever reason - the union would support the students and lobby for change.

At this point in time, I doubt very much whether the update administrators for most universities will allow this update to go through. As and when the roll-out starts, we shall just have to wait and see. I've asked a number of universities' IT departments to comment, but am yet waiting for a response. Any updates will be filed here.

Topics: Browser

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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