Allowing users to 'vote' for browsers could be Microsoft's worst nightmare

Allowing users to 'vote' for browsers could be Microsoft's worst nightmare

Summary: There have been a couple of leaks of late in the ongoing Microsoft antitrust trial in the European Union that could spell bad news for the Softies if they're true. On June 8 Bloomberg reported that the EC has distributed a survey to a number of PC makers, asking them about a possible "ballot screen" that it might require Microsoft to include with Windows.

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TOPICS: Browser, Microsoft
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There have been a couple of leaks of late in the ongoing Microsoft antitrust trial in the European Union that could spell bad news for the Softies if they're true.

A couple of weeks back, the Wall Street Journal reported that the European Commission was leaning toward requiring Microsoft to distribute other vendors' browsers with Windows as one piece of the possible remedy in the case brought by Opera Software. Given that Opera originally sought some kind of distribution deal to "level the playing field" among browser vendors, that kind of requirement wouldn't be a surprise.

But on June 8 Bloomberg reported that the EC has distributed a survey to a number of PC makers, asking them about a possible "ballot screen" that it might require Microsoft to include with Windows. There aren't a lot of specifics as to what such a screen might look like, but one can guess it would offer users, at installation, a choice of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Chrome and possibly Safari. It's also not clear whether the actual browser bits would be on the disk/DVD or users would be required, via a ballot-screen prompt, to download their choice from the Web.  (Microsoft isn't commenting on this alleged remedy, or pretty much anything involving the EC antitrust case, for what it's worth.)

Having just returned from a demo today of Firefox 3.5 -- a new interim test build of which is due out this week, with a Release Candidate and then final code expected to follow shortly -- I'd say Microsoft could be in some serious trouble if users really are encouraged to choose proactively based on features and functionality, rather than take the easy way and use what's provided by default. The new Firefox has a number of features, from "tear-off" tabs, to souped-up JavaScript performance, to audio/video integration directly into the browser window, that aren't in IE. (Granted, IE 8 has several features, like granular private-browsing settings, that Mozilla is just getting around to now. But the new capabilities Mozilla is touting for its 3.5 release are the kinds of "demos-well" features that could convince fence-sitting users to jump.)

If the EC simply requires PC makers to provide a check-box list of browsers, Microsoft's known-quantity status might keep some customers from switching to lesser-known competitors. But many less-savvy users don't know there are browsers other than IE out there. They might be inclined to try a browser from Apple or Google simply because they know Apple makes iPhones and Google delivers Web search. And if there is any kind of "trailer" or mini-demo allowed as part of the "balloting" process, via which each browser vendor could submit a two-minute clip of what each browser could do, Microsoft might have some very serious competition on its hands.

As I've said before, I'm somewhat surprised the EC agreed to pursue Opera's case, given Microsoft has been allowed to claim for years -- with next-to-no challenge -- that IE is part of Windows. (I say "somewhat" because the EC sems hard-pressed to find any anti-Microsoft case it doesn't like.) But the case is forging ahead, with Microsoft's proactive move to allow the "removal" of IE from Windows 7 seeming to have done little to blunt the court's enthusiasm.

Instead of debating the usual "the EC is right/the EC is wrong," I'd like to hear what you think of the possible "ballot screen" remedy.

Up until now, I've felt the EC Microsoft browser-bundling case was more pro-competitor than pro-consumer. But if Microsoft isn't forced to distribute its competitors' products, and, instead, is required to offer customers a choice of brower at startup, might that option be a boon to customers and not just the competition?  Do you think more users would choose non-Microsoft alternatives if offered a choice at installation? Would this kind of remedy allow the best browser to win?

Topics: Browser, Microsoft

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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365 comments
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  • Users are already able to choose a browser based on features/functionality.

    [i]I?d say Microsoft could be in some serious trouble if users really are allowed to choose browsers based on features and functionality.[/i]

    Your blog makes it sound as if they are not.
    ye
    • They don't know that alternatives exist

      Although that is a matter of marketing, then again where do you get a marketing budget for a product that must be made available for free to compete?

      IE doesn't need marketing because it is there by default. How many joe blow users know what IE really is?
      T1Oracle
      • Irrelevant. The point is users are free to chose which ever browser...

        ...they may be aware of. If people are unaware of the alternatives that's not Microsoft's fault.
        ye
        • According to most anti-trust statutes

          is IS Microsoft's fault, because they illegally leveraged their way into the market by piggy-backing it to a monopoly product.

          You can disagree with the logic of the statutes all you want, but that does not change the fact that they do exist.
          Michael Kelly
          • Two different concepts.

            You're referring to tying. I'm referring to lack of awareness to alternatives. They are not the same.
            ye
          • I understand that

            However the reason we are going through this charade in the first place is because of the tying. Once that happens we are free to jump to many conclusions, including one which assumes that the market has been so cornered by a monopoly product that should a potential competitor try to so much as release an advertisement they encounter so much resistance due to their lowly status that it can put them out of business.

            Now I'm not saying I interpret it that way (in fact, Firefox has done quite nicely, and it DOES advertise, though not on TV or radio). But when you do something illegal you open yourself to speculation of your motives and future plans. I agree that forcing Windows to ship other browsers is absurd, and I certainly do not side with the EC on this matter, but MS could have avoided this situation by following the law.
            Michael Kelly
          • Again: The issue I had was the claim that users are not free to choose.

            They are free to choose thus the wording was misleading. MJ has corrected the wording so I have not more objection.
            ye
          • @MK: you say...

            "...but MS could have avoided this situation by following the law."

            It seems you have this thing in your mind that the law is *somehow* right. Otherwise why would you be pursuing an ongoing discussion about 'what the law (purportedly) stands for'??

            If you were being even remotely logical about this, you would see how p.c and B$ the whole EU case is from square-one.

            This isn't even to mention that you don't acknowledge people's right to choose *whatever browser* they damn, well please. It's irrelevant whether they 'know of others or not'. I mean really? Can you Google "internet browser"? If *any* schmoe can't perform a task that a 5 year old could perform, they've got bigger problems than just reading and writing difficulties.

            Frankly, tell us with *all honestly*, "how?" for the life of Brian, this is MS's fault???
            thx-1138_
          • Arg!

            Thank goodness that the EU didn't decide to weigh in on file management GUI's, the BASIC computer language (You know commodore computers had a version of BASIC built in, stifling competition in the programming language market), Disk Operating Systems (What do you mean you include a copy of DOS 6.2 with your PC's? You should give your users a CHOICE!!) And on and on and on. Or maybe we should hit Ford with a lawsuit because they insist on putting TIRES on their cares when they sell them. My GOODNESS you meant if I buy a microwave it has a pre-installed magnetron that I can't remove and replace with whatever brand magnetron I want to use?? RESTRAINT OF TRADE!! MONOPOLY!!

            Maybe Nvidia should stop writing drivers for their video cards, 'cause you know that stifles competition in the driver market.

            The convergence and incorporation of utility programs into the core OS is in the very nature of the development and evolution of the computer. The core of the computing experience is, more and more, BECOMING THE WEB BROWSER. Thus it is only logical that the web browser and core operating sysetem become more and more intertwined.

            Besides, there is nothing preventing the end user from installing and using an alternate browser, except apathy. In Windows 7, microsoft has even included a simple check box allowing the removal of internet explorer, in a counterintuitive move to address these laputian complaints.
            medezark@...
          • Re: Arg!

            Can't you just see it happening now? Aunt Sally goes to uninstall IE without having any other browser installed; how does she [b]get[/b] another browser downloaded? I can hear the screaming now; "Microsoft has screwed me! I don't have internet access!"
            justanitguy
          • Re: Arg!

            Then Aunt Sally should do the following:

            1. Go back to school
            2. Re-install IE from the CD/DVD
            3. Get her nephew or niece to download FIREFOX for her.
            jasonemmg
          • You missed the definition of monopoly ...

            Your argument is baseless. If you don't like the tires on a Ford, you can buy GM, Toyota, Nissan, etc. If you buy a PC (any PC) at Best Buy, it will come with Microsoft Windows on it. The only alternative is to buy a Mac which had 10% market share last time I checked. That's the definition of monopoly.
            terry flores
          • If you don't want a Ford then don't buy it...The same applies here.

            Then don't buy from Bestbuy.... Get a PC from Dell, HP, Asus, Acer, System76, Apple, Pystar (though legally questionable), etc. that includes a Linux distro, FreeDOS, etc., is unformatted, or build your own. There are alternatives. The percentage of the population chooses them is irrelevant. If you don't like IE and never want to open it, then don't. Use a terminal, external medium, or connect to another machine on a local network to obtain builds of another browser as you could on Mac OS X or Linux. Apple bundles hardware with their OS, why exactly don't I see everyone going after them?
            Sephoroth
          • Re: You missed the definition of monopoly ...

            How does your definition now applies to IE?

            And more so,you could as well install Linux on
            your PC!
            temidayoj@...
          • Monopolies aren't illegal...

            Lets blame MS for Apple having a terrible EULA
            that doesn't allow you to install software you
            bought from them on hardware unless you also
            bought it from them. They also sell Macs at
            Best Buy. Let me remind you it isn't illegal to
            be a monopoly, it is illegal to "use" that
            position. MS doesn't stop you from changing the
            browser, the average consumer chooses not to
            because it works the way they need it to.

            You can buy new tires for any of the vehicles
            you mentioned, but that doesn't mean that any
            of those companies should be required to put
            the competitors tires on their vehicles.
            artzm
          • Microsoft was not convicted...

            Microsoft wasn't convicted of being a monopoly, that's not illegal.
            Microsoft was convicted of abusing their monopoly.
            epcraig
          • Microsoft Halloween documents leak

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween_Documents

            http://catb.org/~esr/halloween/

            Where will Microsoft try to drag you today?
            Do you really want to go there?

            http://gladiator-antivirus.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=87183
            Jury orders Microsoft to pay $388 million over anti-piracy patent

            http://www.vistaheads.com/forums/security-news/1689-microsoft-convicted-fine-1-52-billion.html
            Microsoft convicted to a fine of $1.52 billion

            http://www.vnunet.com/vnunet/news/2118681/microsoft-convicted-software-piracy
            Microsoft convicted of software piracy

            Delicious irony has geek community in raptures

            http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/Register_UK_Microsoft_Convicted_Of_Piracy_In_French_Courts/
            Register UK: Microsoft Convicted Of Piracy In French Courts

            Whassamatta? Don't know how to use Google, or just can't read too good?
            Ole Man
          • Nope!!!

            Your argument is completely assumptive and I
            find actually proves that Microsoft is NOT a
            monopoly.

            "The only alternative is to buy a Mac which had
            10% market share"

            Not true, there are other options, but people
            don't choose them. Same as why people choose
            not to purchase Apple in as high of quantities.
            There are MANY choices.

            The LACK of choice is what defines a monopoly.

            (does chiquita have a monopoly on bananas?)
            shadfurman
          • The only alternative is to buy a Mac...

            The reasons Mac has an inferior market share are:

            1. Very poor marketing by the mfr
            2. Failure to license the architecture way back when
            3. Windows is a superior product.

            MS is "at fault" only for #3.
            neverhome
          • That...

            was one of the most ridiculous posts I have read, and that is saying allot. I wouldn't even know where to begin...
            mojorison67@...