How would you fix the browser ballot for European Windows users?

It seems that Mozilla isn't happy with the ballot screen that Microsoft proposed to the European Commission (EC) as a way to ensure more browser choice on Windows PCs.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributing Writer

It seems that Mozilla isn't happy with the ballot screen that Microsoft proposed to the European Commission (EC) as a way to ensure more browser choice on Windows PCs.

Jenny Boriss, a Firefox user experience designer, believes that Microsoft's ballot screen is unfair.

A ballot is simply not a good way to create more “user choice” on the web. While literally giving users a choice, the ballot is unlikely to let users make an informed choice. A user simply can’t choose a browser that’s “right for them” based on a logo and a couple sentences. Side-by-side comparison works for items with easily comparable traits, like price or size or length of time. But browsing experience is just that: an experience. No one can rate experiences they’ve never had.

Initially, Microsoft had chosen to list browsers based on market share. This was considered unfair so Microsoft changes this and listed the browsers in alphabetical order by name of the company that creates them.

So, what's wrong with this method? According to Boriss, lots:

The problem is that for the user, screens such as this one are a roadblock to the task they they actually want to perform (in this case, using the internet). And, as Asa notes, the most common user behavior when confronted by a roadblock is to take the action they believe will most effectively remove it.  Because of this, in user experience design it’s standard practice to present two paths through a setup: a well-marked “express” path of giant buttons and recommended options presented first in lists, and the “advanced” path for users interested in tailoring their configuration. This allows users who do not want to configure options to quickly get the setup that is designed for most people. By presenting Safari as the first item in a list, this ballot implies that it is the item recommended to most users.

And it seems that Boriss is particularly unhappy with Apple getting Safari being at the top of the list:

So what’s so bad about presenting Safari as the first, recommended item? Aside from being unfair to the other browsers, the problem is that past consumer choice has shown that Safari does not provide an ideal browsing experience on Windows. Taking IE out of the equation because of its advantage as the bundled browser, the free market really does show what Windows users prefer. Safari has the smallest market share of the five other browsers at 2.6%. Frankly, Safari is a good browser for Apple computers, but Apple hasn’t put much effort to make it competitive on Windows. It’s just not their priority. So, by listing Safari first, the ballot is presenting as the recommended item the browser that is least likely to be the one the user wants. This leads to users having a bad experience using the web, and ultimately hurts the user and the market.

Boriss offers two suggestions for making the ballot fairer:

  1. Randomize the order of the top five browsers each time
  2. Order of market share, excluding Internet Explorer. (Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, IE)

I'm not sure which of these options I like best. In fact, I'm not sure I like either that much. If the plan is to allow users to make an informed decision, randomizing the list doesn't help at all. Listing the browsers by market share, while putting Mozilla into the prime spot, is dodgy because you can't get a metric that everyone will agree on, especially at the lower end, so that's going to cause more squabbling.

To be honest, I don't think that the average users will care about the politics behind the ballot screen at all. They'll just want to get online ASAP, and that's going to mean they stick using IE.

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