Microsoft posted on its Web site on July 24 the details of its proposal to the European Commision (EC) designed to settle its browser-bundling antitrust case in Europe.
Last Friday, European antitrust officials shared the fact that Microsoft was offering to provide Windows users a choice of browser via the so-called "ballot screen" option -- something the Commission originally advocated -- as part of its settlement talks with the EC. Microsoft originally was dead-set against the ballot screen option; officials said the company would rather ship Windows 7 with no browser included at all than to ship one with a ballot screen.
There are some interesting tidbits in the fine print of Microsoft's propsal. For one, the "ballot screen," which Microsoft has said it will provide to allow European users a choice of browsers on their Windows PCs, isn't for Windows 7 users only. Microsoft is proposing that it be allowed to provide the ballot screen to European users running Windows XP, Vista and/or Windows 7.
The ballot screen -- which will include a list of browsers including IE, plus a number of choices from competing vendors -- will be delivered to current and future XP and Vista users over Windows Update, according to Microsoft's proposal.
Microsoft is advocating that the ballot screen include 10 or fewer of "the most widely-used web browsers that run on Windows with a usage share of equal to or more than 0.5% in the EEA (European Economic Area)." The choice of browsers should be presented "in a horizontal line and in an unbiased way" a display of icons and "basic identifying information" on the Web browsers. The top five of the browsers listed (by market share) will get additional "prominent display," Microsoft is advocating.
(I wonder if these caveats will mean Opera, the company that brought the antitrust case against Microsoft in Europe, would make onto the ballot screen? Opera officials have said they are against the inclusion of icons, claiming it would give an unfair advantage to the easily-recognizable IE.)
XP and Vista users will get the ballot screen three to six months after the European Commission's final ruling in the Opera antitrust case. For XP users, Microsoft plans to designate the ballot screen a "high priority" update when it pushes it out over Windows Update; for Vista and Windows 7 users, the ballot screen will be designated "important," the proposal says.
Here are the specifics, from Microsoft's ballot-screen proposal:
"Microsoft will distribute a Ballot Screen software update to users within the EEA of Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows Client PC Operating Systems, by means of Windows Update as described hereafter: A software update enabling the Ballot Screen to be displayed will be made available to all current and future users of Windows XP and Windows Vista who receive updates from Windows Update.
"For Windows XP and Windows Vista users the Ballot Screen update will first be made available between 3 and 6 months after the adoption of the Commission's decision under Article 9 of Regulation 1/2003. For Windows 7, the Ballot Screen update will first be made available to users by the date of the general commercial release of Windows 7, or within two weeks of the adoption of the Commission's decision under Article 9 of Regulation 1/2003, whichever comes later. For Windows Client PC Operating Systems after Windows 7, the Ballot Screen update will first be made available at the general commercial release date of such an operating system."
Microsoft is proposing that users who set Internet Explorer (IE) as their default browser still will be allowed to choose other competing Web browsers to install via the ballot screen.
The ballot screen, as Microsoft envisions it, will include two links: An install link for connecting to a "vendor-managed distribution server," which will allow the installation of the Web browser and software to update that browser only; and an information link, which "will connect to a vendor-managed web page from which the vendor can offer users more information about its browser and installation options."
As Microsoft officials noted last week, the company will drop its plans to ship the browserless Windows 7E if and when the EC agrees to its browser-ballot concession.
Now that more details are available about the specifics of Microsoft's plan, what's your vote? Should the EC agree to the proposal as written?