Microsoft makes changes to browser ballot screen; user testing to commence

Microsoft makes changes to browser ballot screen; user testing to commence

Summary: Microsoft is making changes to the ballot screen that it proposed to the European Commission (EC) as a way to ensure more browser choice on Windows PCs. Here's what the new ballot screen that Microsoft plans to test among European users of XP, Vista and Windows 7 machines looks like.


Microsoft is making changes to the ballot screen that it proposed to the European Commission (EC) as a way to ensure more browser choice on Windows PCs.

The company announced on October 7 details of the planned changes, and EC regulators said they'd begin testing those changes among European consumers. Here's a screen shot of the newly modified ballot screen:

The inclusion of a ballot screen -- which will be delivered to XP, Vista and Windows 7 PC users in Europe via Microsoft's Windows Update patching mechanism -- is one of the concessions Microsoft made to try to appease the European antitrust regulators in their investigation of Microsoft's practice of bundling Internet Explorer (IE) with Windows. The investigation was the result of an antitrust suit brought against Microsoft in 2007 by Opera Software.

Microsoft revealed its initial ballot screen proposal in July of this year. On Wednesday, Microsoft officials said they'd modify this screen to make it more palatable to regulators and its competitors, a number of whom have said the proposed screen fell short of the mark. In addition to providing an initial screen that describes what a browser is and to verify a user is connected to the Internet, the second actual ballot screen under the new proposal includes several modifications. These include changes to:

  • Make it so competing browsers can be downloaded from the ballot screen more quickly and easily
  • Ensure equivalent placement on the Windows 7 taskbar for Internet Explorer and all other browser icons
  • Add introductory information, improving the design of the ballot page about each browser to help users make more informed choices
  • Alphabetize the list of browsers so that the five most popular are listed first (by vendor), followed by the next seven most popular (also alphabetically ordered), so that 12 choices are displayed in total
  • Provide the browser ballot to users for five years

Microsoft officials said they are planning to use Windows Update to push the browser ballot to Windows PCs, including Windows 7 machines which go on sale on October 22, so as not to require PC makers to preload anything additional on new machines. Under Microsoft's proposal, PC makers also will be free to bundle browsers other than IE on new machines, as well as turn off IE all together.

Microsoft officials also pledged on October 7 to do more to share interoperability information regarding Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange and SharePoint with other software makers. The company also said it would address security software vendors' concerns by disclosing "certain programming interfaces addressed by Microsoft's own security products."

Microsoft agreed 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. Microsoft scrapped plans for a browser-less Windows 7E earlier this year.

The EC still has yet to issue its final findings, remedies and fines (if any) in the Opera antitrust case.

The EC is giving interested parties a month to comment on Microsoft's updated browser ballot proposal. What's your two cents? Is the modified browser ballot going to help consumers make more informed choices?

Topics: Microsoft, Browser, Operating Systems, Software, Windows


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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  • The changes amost don't matter

    Guess what, Opera? You're still last!
    • ha ha

      ha ha
    • Opera is still last...

      Wouldn't it be funny if market testing showed that the choice in the middle is the one that uninformed consumers choose most often? (In this case, Microsoft). Either way, Opera is last, and that's just hilarious. Poetic justice anyone? lol
      • bell curve

        you epitomize it.

        well done, zdnet. i didn't think you had it in you to use an ankle snare.
    • if only their name were "Apera"...

    • 8 is better than 4... 3... 0... right?

      Hmm. If you were an uninformed consumer, and you saw five products to choose from, would you choose the one with an "8" in the name... or a "4" (Safari) or "3" (Firefox) or a "0" (Opera--it looks like a zero) or none (Google). I'm just guessing that most people might think, "Well, 8 is more than 4 or 3 or 0, so that one is probably better." Microsoft wins again. LOL
      • How many time can you forgive

        It just means Microsoft screwed up 7 times and all the others far less. Sorry Dude, you need to blow another bubble.
        • yeah...

          Yeah, that's exactly what the average consumer is gonna think when they see those numbers...
        • And another fanboi...

          spouts the dribble... surprise surprise!

          Come up with something original or useful and we *might* take you seriously
  • What about WSUS?

    Is MS going to send this update via WSUS? I personally would want to make sure this doesnt get distributed to all my desktops.
    • WSUS

      Not sure. I'll ask and provide an update here.

      The update from MS: No WSUS. It is Windows Update only for distribution. My guess is that this is because the distribution of the ballot is mandatory and not optional in Europe.

      Mary Jo Foley
      • Just dont authorize it in wsus.

  • Waaaaah!!!!

    Want some cheese to go with that whine?

    [i]Not good enough I feel. At the moment that text is designed to snare the unwitting user into blind IE8 acceptance using clever wording that says everything and means nothing.[/i]

    If there is truly "blind acceptance", as you claim, they'll select the first thing on the list... Safari.

    Quit whining.
    Hallowed are the Ori
    • Get serious JTK

      Look, I really don't care if you are a dedicated Win user or a dyed in the wool Mac user.....or even a Linux devotee......Even your common sense would tell you that if something is set up with more attractive language than the other choices, then it will automatically collect more "votes". Flies are attracted to honey and that is what Microsoft is playing. This isn't whining, it is just stating a fact so for heavens sake put your mind into gear and think before putting silly comments.
      • Get serious yourself

        Don't be an idiot please. Each browser manufacturer gets to set the wording for their product.

        Jeez, you sound like you work for Opera or something.
        • He's likely not familiar with that.

          These are the exact slogans from the individual browser companies themselves.

          It's just true. You can't please everyone.
          • Web Outlook and other compatible applications.

            How many browsers are going to work with Web Outlook. How many will install a browser thats not IE, if they need Web Outlook won't that just kill off market share for non IE browsers?
          • No

            I suggest you use OWA (Outlook Web Access) before opening your mouth (and subsequently inserting foot) because I use Firefox on Linux to access my OWA email without a hitch.

            Only difference is under IE, I have the option of "fully enabled" instead of "Lite". There honestly isnt much of a difference and doesnt impact my ability to send and receive emails.

            So 'Web Outlook' as you call it - works just fine in Non-IE browsers.
          • Web Outlook

            Outlook Web Access has been available as part of Microsoft's Enterprise strategy for sometime and that version works just dandy on any browser. No reason to think a consumer version would work any differently..
        • It would explain the...

          cra@...cra**y browser like Opera