Microsoft adds 'browser ballot' to Windows 8 amid EU probe

Microsoft adds 'browser ballot' to Windows 8 amid EU probe

Summary: A month ahead of its release, Windows 8 users in Europe are now receiving the 'browser ballot' update in Microsoft's bid to appease European antitrust regulators.

TOPICS: EU, Browser, Legal, Microsoft

Microsoft is pushing out an update to Windows 8 users to enable the "browser ballot" screen, even though the operating system's general availability date is a month away.

Windows 8 users in Europe are now given the choice of which browser -- including Microsoft's own Internet Explorer -- they wish to install.

Microsoft's 'browser ballot' screen in Windows 8. Credit: Zack Whittaker/ZDNet.

The Windows Update-offered patch provides a Windows 8 "tiled" (formerly known as "Metro") application, which offers a range of third-party browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Maxathon 3, and Opera, along with Internet Explorer to be installed.

More browsers are available by scrolling through the available options, but only five browsers are displayed at a time.

While Internet Explorer is already installed with Windows, the update 'unpins' the browser from the desktop, and adds the browser ballot tile to the Start screen. Internet Explorer remains on the new tiled Start screen, however.

Controversy stirred earlier this year after Microsoft failed to include the mandatory software in the latest patched version of Windows 7, which may have resulted in 28 million European consumers not being given the option to change their browser. 

In 2009, Microsoft was found by European antitrust authorities to have abused its dominant operating system market position by bundling Internet Explorer with the desktop software. Microsoft settled the case with Europe, and dished out a "browser ballot" screen to European users of Windows, first seen in February 2010.

Selecting a new browser from the 'browser ballot' screen. Credit: Zack Whittaker/ZDNet.

But in July, the European Commission said it had received complaints that Microsoft was not carrying out its obligations to provide users' with a choice of browser. The EU swiftly opened an antitrust investigation into the software giant.

Microsoft admitted in an almost-immediate public statement that it had failed to offer the browser ballot screen since February 2011 because a "technical error" led to the browser ballot update not being included in the store-shelf version of Windows 7 with Service Pack 1.

"While we believed when we filed our most recent compliance report in December 2011 that we were distributing the [browser ballot] software to all relevant PCs as required, we learned recently that we've missed serving the [browser ballot] software to the roughly 28 million PCs running Windows 7 SP1," the company said.

EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told reporters over the weekend that he had received "assurances" from Microsoft that the firm will "comply immediately regardless of the conclusion of the antitrust probe," in what the antitrust chief described as "personal talks" with Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer.

The EU is also looking to allegations that Windows 8 allegedly limits application programming interfaces (APIs) to developers, rival browser makers accuse, while Internet Explorer runs in both "tiled" and "classic" desktop mode.

Microsoft can be fined up to 10 percent of its global annual turnover -- up to 5.7 billion euros ($7 billion) -- or face changes to how it conducts business in the 27 European member states if the software giant is found to have broken European antitrust laws.

ZDNet has put in questions to Microsoft, but did not hear back at the time of writing. If we hear back, we'll update the piece.

Topics: EU, Browser, Legal, Microsoft

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  • Babying over users

    You know, I'm kind of fed up with the EU(SSR) babying over it's citizens. Everyone in the world knows they can install Chrome, or Firefox, but these guys seem to be stuck in 1994 in some rear-guard browser war.

    Also, why just the browser? Why not the maps application, the photo viewer or anything else?

    Governments should leave both computer users and computer manufacturers alone. They're not even going after all manufacturers with the same zeal. It's become completely ridiculous.
    Han CNX
    • Simple, its free money to support their bloated bureaucracy

      think of all those do nothing bureaucrats out of a job without free money extorted from US corporations. The public knows about browsers, media players, etc. Bundling one in with the os doesnt harm them in any way.
      Johnny Vegas
      • nonsense

        it bloody does! If it wasn't for some people hassling Microsoft for anti-competitive bundling, we'd still be using IE6.

        Most users are too stupid to know there are alternative browsers available anyway, the user who thinks the blue e stands for "internet". Don't try to apply your education and knowledge to the majority who are much more ignorant of computer details than you and I.

        Besides, the DoJ "extorted" free money from MS too, this isn't some racist action as you imply, but yet another legitimate sanction on a convicted organisation.

        PS. does this browser ballot apply to the desktop, or to the Metro version of the browser??? Hmm, strangely enough I think this will sidestep the ability to replace metro/IE.
        • Metro browser

          The default browser is the metro browser, if the one in question has a metro version. Chrome does, for example, and putting Chrome as default should put chrome in Metro as well. Otherwise, you don't have a Metro browser (unless they changed that between Release Preview and RTM).
          Michael Alan Goff
        • No we wouldnt

          And if what you say is true, then how do you explain the success of Chrome in the US where there is no ballot?
          • Basically social engineering

            As evidenced by their latest attempts with Adobe Flash update, which now comes with a ticked box to make Chrome your default browser, just to trick those people who are just used to hitting Enter to install yet another Flash fix.

            Chrome - it's made by an advertising company - you have been warned ;-)
          • how do

            you explain the fact that Chrome is much less popular in the US than the EU, as well, as why IE is so much more popular outside of the EU?
        • So basically...

          The eu is hoping that google, apple, mozilla etc. will gain users for their browser by getting people to accidentally install the "internet" that doesn't have a blue e for an icon? Brilliant!

          Funny thing is that I have never seen a single person running chrome / firefox / internet exsplorer on their Iphone. Wonder why that is.

          I just installed linux on a couple of boxes today. Again, no check box.

          Turned on my PS3 and went to look for something on the interwebs... no check box....

          Sounds like a lot of bull sh&^ to me.
          • where did you

            install Linux? Wasn't it bundled with some other OS ?
          • Nope

            You are just ignorant person.

            When a company has operating system what it ships with its own software system, for what it ships its own office package and for it it ships a own www-browser, and has own developer package, it does have a dominant market position when over 90% of new PC's comes pre-installed with that software system.

            Microsoft has un-direct control over OEM's and even other peripheral manufacturers simply with its market share, API's, ABI's and design etc.

            Microsoft has everything expect the hardware, from operating system to graphical user interface and everything between them, and software what most companies needs (they can not use others because file compatibility problems when bigger company use MS Office, smaller ones needs to use MS Office as well) and they have browser what was used to make most web sites in mind before EU went and slapped MS a warning that they should not abuse their dominant market position.

            Since EU, the WWW has grown more natural and free way. It has gained lots of new features, innovations, services and most of all, compability with other WWW-browsers. And even web designers and web coders are happy because it is easier than ever to make sites.

            Apple has totally different position than Microsoft. Same thing is with every other than Microsoft.
            As they either make the whole product by themselfs (like Apple, from hardware to stores and so on) or they use standards and they allow users to swap any part they want to alternative.

            Microsoft has key software pieces, and it use them to abuse its dominant market position unless someone stops it.

            When one company abuses its market position, it doesn't mean fines and special rules what are given to it, are applied to everyone else who doesn't abuse dominant market position.

            Microsoft has cheated more money than any other company, it has blackmailed customers and even governments and other companies, it has pushed other smaller companies away from markets just with single phone call or single API change.

            And Microsoft is still same company as it was 25 years ago, it just is defending its kingdom and hoping there are ignorant fans protecting it as well, like you.
  • entire premise is just stupid - or is it EU citizens who are stupid?

    "may have resulted in 28 million European consumers not being given the option to change their browser. "

    Nobody was deprived of the option to load whatever browser they wanted - they just don't have it forced upon them. The article makes it sound like Microsoft is somehow blocking the installation of other browsers. They are not. But the EU has determined that the people under their jurisdiction are too stupid to download an alternative without forcing Microsoft to lead them to it.
    • Politicians are always looking for ways to make themselves look good

      The only stupid thing is that citizens in the EU and the US fall for this and continue to support a flawed political system.
    • Nope

      Ignorance is easy, when avarage user in US doesn't even know what WWW-browser is:

      When someone comes and suggest that the user has to make a choice in first time they want to start browsing WWW that what tool they use it, people get crazy because it isn't forced by their idol (microsoft).

      Have you ever seen other browsers fans whining how there is now a ballot and their favorite isn't pre-installed and forced to everyone? No. Because others like it when other browsers even have a change to be chosen, not forced.

      Isn't it scary how people don't even know difference between Internet and WWW? Or difference between browser and search engine? Or operating system and graphical user interface or MS Word and word processor?

      People are ignorant, they just want stuff done and it is very easy by big companies to influence their users opinions, especially if your own product comes preinstalled over 9/10 of the new personal computers.
      • not scary - practical

        Actually, it does not scare me at all that Microsoft installs a browser that they made with an O/S that they made. The users who don't know the difference between an O/S and a browser typically do not have a need to know the difference. They just want to get their email, get on Facebook, receive pictures of the grand-kids, and surf the web trying to find the latest malware. When they find the malware, it is guys like me that end up removing it and installing or updating programs to help keep them from getting it again, because I have been working with computers since 1983 - nearly 10 years before Mosaic came up with a GUI browser.

        Of course you don't hear fans of other browsers whining that MS is forced to do their marketing for them. Just because somebody has designed a new browser is no reason to make Microsoft do their advertising and distribution for them. And that is what the EU is doing with the ballot screen. There is money to be made with these other browsers, or they would not be out there. The EU is mandating that the other browser companies don't have to advertise their browsers, MS has to do it for them.

        Is it scary that people don't know the differences between gasoline and diesel engines? Is it scary that people don't know the difference between 1080i and 1080p? Is it scary that people don't know the difference between a maple and an oak? No, it is not, because the vast majority of the population does not need to know these differences. A car is a car, a TV is a TV, and a tree is a tree. Unless it is your job to know more about it, or you really want to know more, that is enough to to know. When somebody calls me for help with a browser, step #1 is check it with the most recent version of IE. If that works but you "have to use Opera because its better", call Opera. Let them support it, or figure it out yourself. If you are qualified to make your own choices, you are qualified to clean up the mess.

        Just FYI, I use Chrome for roughly 90% of my browsing. Dropped Opera when they had a hand in instigating the whole EU ballot mess.
  • For those who think that this is needed for competition

    tell me why IE was losing marketshare long before the ballot was introduced.
    Michael Alan Goff
    • Consider for a moment when this action began

      Perhaps that flash of knowledge will explain it. The wheels of justice generally turn slow, so it is hardly a surprise that Microsoft are still under the gun.
  • I don't get it.

    I have never understood why Microsoft can not have a their own browser built into it's OS. If you want Chrome or Firefox or something else, go ahead and install it but IE should still be there cause it should be part of the OS. What if I want a Fiat engine in my Honda car? Honda should get sued cause I can't to that?
    • Ignorance is easy

      [quote]I have never understood why [/quote]

      You just said it....

      Learn first what is operating system (technically) as it is just few megabytes software in computer controlling every other software and hardware.

      Then learn what is software platform
      then what are system programs and system libraries
      Then learn what difference is with program and library
      Then what is API and ABI
      Then what is a standard

      Then read history of PC from 1981 when IBM invented PC to this time how Microsoft has worked on markets (read court rulings, competitors comments, now public emails from MS monopoly on PC markets in US etc etc) and you can start to have a clue what is the problem what EU tries to fix.
      • Fri13....couln't have said it better if I tried

        IBM once had a better writing program ( escapes me right now) than Microsoft World and than Microsoft did their usual magic with a competitive product when a competitive get to close. I'm sorry to say IBM walked away from that fight I think they could have won.
        Over and Out
  • Why just Microsoft?

    Now that Apple has taken a leap in market share, why is Microsoft still the only one coming under scrutiny. Surely the bundling of Safari with OSX is an issue which requires the same sort of antitrust scrutiny and ballot.

    Surely, if MS is in trouble for not allowing other browsers access to the underlying APIs, then so too should Apple... iOS does not allow for any other browser to access the main Javascript APIs and WebKit that iOS Safari uses. This is why Chrome for the iPad is slower than Safari - they're not allowed to use their own engine, nor are they allowed to use Apple's own speedier libraries.

    Perhaps a little more breadth in the search for anti competitive companies is in order?