The deadline for official comment on Microsoft's latest rendition of the browser-ballot -- the screen the company has proposed to download to PC users in order to appease antitrust regulators handling the Opera vs. Microsoft antitrust case -- is next week. (It should be November 10, if the one-month comment deadline the European Commission set for itself is still in place.)
Google, Mozilla and Opera are preparing to weigh in separately with their suggestions, according to a November 4 round-up in the New York Times. These three Microsoft browser rivals still aren't happy with the revisions Microsoft has made to its proposal. If the Commission decides their complaints have merit, more ballot testing and delays in implementation will ensue.
Mozilla execs already weighed in publicly (via a blog post) about their beefs, which include Microsoft's suggestion that users see a screen which presents the top browser choices presented in alphabetical order by vendor (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Opera). Mozilla officials have said they aren't keen on Apple's Safari for Windows being No. 1 because it doesn't work all that well on Windows. Mozilla officials haven't offered publicly an alternative way to list the browsers on the ballot. I'm sure they're trying to find some way to justify Firefox being listed first.
Opera officials aren't keen on the Microsoft logo being at the top of the ballot, fearing undue influence on users (who already opted to buy a Windows PC, mind you). Opera's CEO also said he wants to bar Microsoft from displaying a warning if and when users choose to download rival's software.
There's no word in the New York Times piece about what Google's objections are. But I bet Google hated even getting a mention in the Times article, since that Google (like Microsoft) prefers back-room politics.
I've been a fan of the idea of Microsoft providing a browser ballot since the EC first floated the idea (and Microsoft opposed it vehemently). I was surprised Microsoft changed its tune and embraced the ballot, but I guess that seemed the least of all possible evils and a last stab at attempting to avoid a fine. (A fine is still a possibility; there's no word on what the EC's final remedy will be in the case.)
I liked the browser-ballot proposal because I've never bought into the idea that IE should be considered part of the operating system. Many less-savvy PC users don't know there is more than one browser out there; they just assume IE is all there is. While many Softies and Microsoft backers have noted that Microsoft has done nothing to prevent users from choosing other browsers, the bundling of IE did make it unlikely that many PC users would know they had choices or how to get access to them.
I have to say, however, that this round of complaints by Microsoft's rivals seem like nothing more than an attempt to keep Microsoft's lawyers busy.
Microsoft has been losing browser share in recent years for a variety of reasons, including user security concerns (given IE is usually hackers' primary browser target); failure to comply fully and in a timely manner with Web standards; the long lag time between browser updates from Microsoft; and problems with IE 8's performance, especially on older operating systems and PCs. (I am basing that last reason on feedback from my readers.)
Being forced to compete for the love of users who actually understand they have a choice of browsers might do more to spur Microsoft to be innovative, timely and standards-compliant with IE than anything else would. That's why I say bring on the browser ballot, but for users' sakes, not for those of Microsoft's competitors.