European lobbyist group pushes for Microsoft's browser ballot to go worldwide

ECIS, a lobbyist group with many Microsoft adversaries as members, is calling on regulators worldwide to follow the European Commission (EC) in requiring Microsoft to offer a browser ballot that calls out non-Internet-Explorer alternatives available to PC users

ECIS, a lobbyist group with many Microsoft adversaries as members, is calling on regulators worldwide to follow the European Commission (EC) in requiring Microsoft to offer a browser ballot that calls out non-Internet-Explorer alternatives available to PC users.

Starting March 1, Microsoft began pushing out to European Union users an EC-stipulated browser ballot, which makes it plain to consumers that even though Internet Explorer (IE) comes preloaded on Windows PCs, there are other browsers available. Microsoft agreed to provide the browser ballot to EU consumers running IE as their default browser on XP, Vista and Windows 7 as part of a settlement deal with the EC in an antitrust case brought against Microsoft by browser maker Opera Software.

The European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) -- whose members include Opera, Adobe, Corel, IBM, Nokia, Oracle, RealNetworks and Red Hat -- is pushing for regulatory agencies in other countries to require Microsoft to deliver the browser ballot to users outside of the EC.

"Microsoft agreed to change its business practices in the face of formal charges from the Commission. Consumers deserve the same unbiased browser choice on all the world’s more than 1 billion personal computers," said the ECIS in a March 2 press release.

Given that Opera is one of ECIS' members, it's not too surprising that ECIS is making many of the same arguments Opera did when it lodged its browser-bundling complaint against Microsoft at the end of 2007. More from the ECIS press release:

"Microsoft has bundled its own Internet Explorer Web browser with Windows and most users accept it instead of trolling the Web for alternatives.  Because Windows runs on 90 percent of the world’s computers, that bundling has slowed innovation in browsers. During the first years of this century, it ground almost to a halt when there was little competition.

"Internet Explorer, which runs only on Windows, sometimes uses special computer coding. Web pages created to those special standards will not run properly on other Web browsers, making it necessary to use a Microsoft system to read them."

As I've said before, I think the browser ballot is a good thing. While IT professionals and power users know there are choices other than IE out there and know how to get alternative browsers, many non-tech-savvy PC users do not.

That said, to me, it would be a waste of time and money for other regulatory bodies to have to hear cases brought by Microsoft's competitors in order for the ballot screen to become a worldwide offering. Unfortunately, I don't see Microsoft proactively offering the browser ballot to users worldwide -- especially not while its total browser market share continues to slide...

Do you see any upsides (or downsides) to the Softies offering the ballot screen to users worldwide? I've heard from a couple of EU customers that they think Microsoft has structured the ballot poorly, making it difficult for users who do actually want IE to get it. Anyone else having that same experience?