Microsoft's browser ballot choice screen has led to a boost in downloads for Opera, the company that prompted the European Commission investigation that led to the introduction of the feature.
Opera said on Thursday that downloads of its desktop browser in European countries have more than doubled as a direct result of the ballot choice that Microsoft introduced at the beginning of March.
"This confirms that when users are given a real choice on how they choose the most important piece of software on their computer — the browser — they will try out alternatives," said Håkon Wium Lie, chief technology office at Opera Software. "A multitude of browsers will make the web more standardised and easier to browse."
The ballot screen in Windows presents users with a randomised list of the five most popular browsers: Apple's Safari, Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, Opera and Internet Explorer. Users can scroll to the side to choose from another seven less widely used browsers, called Avant, Flock, Green, Maxthon, Slim, Sleipnir and K-Meleon.
Microsoft introduced the ballot screen after the European Commission found that the bundling of IE with Windows contravened European antitrust laws. Opera filed the complaint that sparked the EC antitrust investigation.
The ballot screen began external testing in the week beginning 22 February, before a wider European rollout that started around 1 March. The rollout will continue through mid-May, and the ballot will be offered on new Windows systems for five years.
Opera said over a three-day period in March, its European download figures for Opera 10.50 are up an average of 130 percent as a result of the ballot, with 53 percent of its overall downloads resulting directly from the ballot. The figures are based on statistics for 17 European countries collected from 12-14 March, which were then averaged out.
Poland showed the greatest increase in a single country, with downloads increasing by 328 percent due to the ballot, and 77 percent of the country's total Opera 10.50 downloads coming from the choice screen. Hungary was the least affected, with a 53 percent increase in downloads and 35 percent of Opera 10.50 downloads originating from the browser ballot.
For the UK, Opera said downloads had increased 85 percent due to the ballot, which accounted for 46 percent of downloads.
Opera is the first to release specifics on how the ballot screen has affected downloads, but about a week after the ballot's launch Mozilla said it had added more than 50,000 new users as a result of the choice screen.
While Mozilla said it could not provide updated figures, a spokeswoman told ZDNet UK that Firefox has "seen significant growth" as a result of the ballot. "We expect these numbers to increase as the ballot choice screen fully rolls out across all countries," the spokeswoman said.
A Google spokeswoman told ZDNet UK the company doesn't provide figures on downloads of its Chrome browser. "We believe anything that raises awareness around browsers and increases choice is great for users and the web," the spokeswoman said. Apple said it couldn't provide Safari download information.
According to the statistics from Statcounter, the market share for the top five browsers has changed little since the introduction of the ballot screen — except for a notable .5 percent market share gain by Chrome.
In February, IE had a 45.5 percent browser market share in Europe, followed by Firefox with 39 percent, Chrome with 6.5 percent, Opera with 4.3 percent and Safari with 3.7 percent, according to Statcounter.
Statcounter's statistics so far for March show a slight increase in overall market share for IE, moving up to 45.6 percent, followed by Firefox with 38 percent, Chrome with 7 percent, Opera with 4.4 percent and Safari unchanged at 3.7 percent.
A week after the ballot's rollout, six of the seven second-tier browsers represented petitioned regulators for increased prominence on the screen. The petitioners do not seek a change that could get their browsers onto the first screen, but rather some text or graphics that indicate there are choices beyond the first five. The petitioners included all of the second-tier browsers aside from K-Meleon.