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How Europe's Mandated Browser Ballot Screen Works 169

Posted by timothy
from the from-the-top-down dept.
CWmike writes "After an 11-month legal face-off, Microsoft and European antitrust officials signed off yesterday on the ballot screen concept that will give Windows users a chance to download rivals' browsers. But now that the battle's over and the ink has dried, it's time to look closely. Some FAQ examples: What's Microsoft promised? How will it work? How many browsers will be on the ballot? Who decides which browsers? Who will see it?"
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How Europe's Mandated Browser Ballot Screen Works

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  • by Orion Blastar (457579) <orionblastarNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday December 18, 2009 @01:52AM (#30483982) Homepage Journal

    Write a 'Portable Application" that is not integrated with Windows System files to web browse to any web site and download any file and then run it. Default the startup page to a Google search for "web browsers" and let the user pick which link to follow and download. Then the 'Portable Application" can be deleted if the user so desires.

    I would suggest that the 'Portable Application" be a FOSS web browser like Firefox and licensed from the Mozilla Foundation to work as a one time downloader. Then all web browsers have that annoying feature to detect that it is not the "Default browser" and ask the user to make it default and sets the default to "Yes and never ask again" so the user picks a web browser, downloads it, make it default and then if they want they can download a different web browser later on.

    The whole DOJ and EU problem with Windows is that IE is the built in default web browser that is integrated with Windows system files so it cannot be removed. Just make the Windows 7 N-edition versions with the temp 'Portable Application" web browser that can download whatever web browser the user wants and give a system message that a temp web browser will be loaded to find a suitable web browser the user can download and install and then set as default.

    That is just about as simple as you can make it. If you make the third part web browsers part of the Windows 7 install DVD they will be old versions and prone to vulnerabilities and skip some FOSS web browsers and any other web browser that comes out after the Install DVD is made.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 18, 2009 @02:03AM (#30484026)

      Write a 'Portable Application" that is not integrated with Windows System files to web browse to any web site and download any file and then run it. Default the startup page to a Google search for "web browsers" and let the user pick which link to follow and download. Then the 'Portable Application" can be deleted if the user so desires.

      Gee what would we call this innovative portable application? How about "browser"?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      It's one thing when people who feel they have the requisite knowledge choose to locate an alternative browser and install it. If every user had to use Google to locate what they thought might be a web browser and then attempt to install it successfully, a significant percentage would go straight off the cliff.

    • Default the startup page to a Google search for "web browsers" and let the user pick which link to follow and download.

      Then we'd need another "portable application" to let the user search for a search engine to use so the operating system wouldn't give an unfair advantage to Google.

    • This shows how government works. This issue was important when Netscape had significant market share and MS just brought out IE. They used their OS dominance to kill Netscape as a company, and that is when the anti-monopoly police should have stepped in and taken swift action. Of course they have used the monopoly to dominate the office suite market and to horn in Exchange, MSSQL and now Sharepoint. The original DOJ solution of breaking up MS and forcing the OS and the office suite to stand on their own
      • by Sancho (17056)

        When I buy a computer I don't want to chose between twelve versions of windows, I want some Linux options, or a least a no OS option.

        And you're part of a tiny, tiny minority. The vast majority of people don't think of the operating system as different from the hardware. They think of the entire unit as "the computer." Very few people selling to consumers is realistically going to see a benefit to offering a softwareless computer. I'd like to put the blame for that on Microsoft, but realistically, that's just people. Microsoft made the PC affordable and easy enough for anyone to use, which made it possible for the PC market to flouri

        • And you're part of a tiny, tiny minority.

          Most tech-literate businesses will get software-free PCs and load up whatever OS they have a support contract for be it Windows XP, Red Hat or Ubuntu. So, no, not a tiny minority.

          The vast majority of people don't think of the operating system as different from the hardware.

          And I'm sure most people think of the components of a car as the same thing as the car itself. Yet that isn't an excuse to not sell car parts.

          Very few people selling to consumers is realistically going to see a benefit to offering a softwareless computer.

          Its a lot easier to test. Rather than making sure that all the components of Windows are installed, that all the crapware is installed, dealing with disks, etc. That means less labor an

          • Rather than making sure that all the components of Windows are installed, that all the crapware is installed, dealing with disks, etc.

            Do you know how a disk image works? It's really very little more work to image a hard disk than to just put a brand-new, blank one in there.

            You are kidding right? IBM (who had a near total monopoly on computer systems at the time) needed an OS, so MS basically bought DOS from a couple of guys who made it and licensed it to IBM.

            True.

            DOS was -terrible- but due to IBM's monopoly its what people used,

            True -- and that should be a period, not a comma.

            when people realized they could build an IBM-compatible machine the clones started coming out and they wanted software compatibility so they licensed DOS too.

            See, here's where you're missing a key piece of information:

            Microsoft managed to sell DOS to IBM... but not as an exclusive arrangement. Because of this, Microsoft could then turn around and sell DOS (and later Windows) to any IBM clone who wanted it.

            Without this, it wouldn't have mattered -- those IBM clones would'v

  • by Shakrai (717556) on Friday December 18, 2009 @01:54AM (#30483990) Journal

    My computer experience tells me you've got two kinds of users. Idiots and non-idiots. The former category is a lost cause and will just use IE anyway because that's what they know. The latter category is already smart enough to procure an alternate browser without the help of a splash screen.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      So explain very gradual changes in adoption of browsers other than IE.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        That's hard to do when people bitch and moan that the blue "e" is missing from the computer and then fidget whenever you open Firewhatever before they just ask you to just the "e" back in the upper left corner.

        Those are the lost cause. Imagine trying to explain chmod or sudo to them.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 18, 2009 @02:29AM (#30484126)
          It has taken a couple of years, but my brothers and I have managed to train our father - although now he keeps looking for 'Mozzarella Firefox'...
        • by sznupi (719324)

          You still haven't addressed how over half of Europe ended up using alternative browsers already (BTW why do you limit yourself and those you're trying yo convert to FF?...) and through very gradual process.

          The way you draw the distinction idiots vs. non-idiots (does that make you feel better?) paints the issue of browser share as virtually impossible to modify.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hairyfeet (841228)

          I've actually had VERY good luck converting the "average Joe" off of IE and onto Firefox, but there is a trick to it, and no, I don't mean hide IE. Anyway here is what I have found: You can't just "make" them switch, you have to give them a reason to switch.

          So what I do is install ABP and ForecastFox, set to load at the toolbar-menubar area, and then let them see what a page that is loaded with ads like the Yahoo home page looks like in both Firefox and IE. after they have seen a couple of pages without th

    • you've got two kinds of users. Idiots and non-idiots. The former category is a lost cause and will just use IE anyway because that's what they know.

      Yep and if I was living in Europe all those idiots who I would've sneakily converted to Firefox will now get this ballot pop up and change themselves back to IE. Will be interesting to see the before and after browser popularity stats.

      • by houghi (78078)

        Indeed it would be interesting to see. Could be that IEs popularity rises because people make their own choice instead of letting either some geek or some corporation do it for them.

      • by jonbryce (703250)

        The Ballot screen only appears for people who have IE as their default browser. If you have switched them to Firefox, they won't see it.

        In any case, I would expect most non-geeks to choose "Google".

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      The first category probably wouldn't even realise they are working with FF or Safari instead of IE.

    • by TorKlingberg (599697) on Friday December 18, 2009 @04:28AM (#30484566)

      My computer experience tells me you've got two kinds of users. Idiots and non-idiots.

      This is a common mental mistake of Slashdotters. Of course there is a scale of various levels of knowledge. Perhaps even more importantly, a person can be an expert in some subjects and an idiot in others.

      • by msimm (580077)

        ...a person can be an expert in some subjects and an idiot in others.

        Something most slashdotters should be intimately familiar with (myself l;sdkjfaiosuoas included).

      • by tsa (15680)

        Ignorance doesn't equal idiocy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by houghi (78078)

      This is not about the idiots making stupid choices. This is about the idiots having the ability to make a stupid choice. Perhaps there will be idiots who say "Finally I can have my IE back and not that firething my geeky neighbour forced down my throat."

      This is not about forcing people to use alternative browsers. It is about giving people a selection to choose from. Just like you can select to eat in a fancy restaurant (or even cook your own food) does not mean McD is out of business any day soon. It means

      • by Bert64 (520050)

        Giving people a selection doesn't work, people are lazy..
        You need to not only give them a selection, but also explain the pros and cons of each option, and even then they might still be lazy and stick with what they know...

        The damage is already done, if you had given people a choice the first time they ever used a computer, especially with a decent explanation, then the situation would be very different today.

    • by Xest (935314)

      Or more importantly, it's not necessary because Netscape failed because it was crap, not because of Microsoft's situation, and Firefox is killing Microsoft's marketshare even though IE has the same supposed advantage over it that it had over netscape.

      Opera are pushing this because their browser is in the non-factor segment of the market when the real solution is to just do as Firefox did- build a better browser, and spend some time convincing people to adopt it.

      I actually feel sorry for Microsoft because th

      • by Bert64 (520050)

        Netscape fell very quickly because it was not only crap, but also microsoft played dirty against them...

        The difference between current versions of ie and firefox/opera/safari/chrome is actually much greater than the difference between ie/netscape, microsoft's inertia and dirty tricks are the only thing keeping them in the game right now.

        If you take away their unfair/illegal advantages, ie would be fading a lot faster than it currently is.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by saintm (142527)

      Yeah, because knowledge about computing has everything to do with intelligence, eh?

    • by jonwil (467024)

      Depending on how its presented, there is a good chance people (who would normally only use IE) might see Google Chrome and go "I know Google, I use it to find stuff all the time, I am going to pick the Google option"

  • by iammani (1392285) on Friday December 18, 2009 @01:58AM (#30484006)
    The bad news is that, the screen is to appear only for users in Europe. I hope the US anti-trust takes hint a from their European counterparts and mandate in the US too.
    • by plasmacutter (901737) on Friday December 18, 2009 @02:08AM (#30484046)

      The bad news is that, the screen is to appear only for users in Europe. I hope the US anti-trust takes hint a from their European counterparts and mandate in the US too.

      I believe deliberate, artificial market segmentation is a violation of the sherman anti-trust act. It merely needs to be actually pursued by the justice department.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You mean things like region encoding of Movies is actually illegal?

        Huh.

      • by darthflo (1095225) *

        Heh, yeah. Coming to compliance with a (megalomaniac) government's regulations within their territory screams of artificial market segmentation. Next thing you know all U.S. Windows retail boxes will come in English + French, 'cause Canada mandates it. And they'll only accept rubles as payment, 'cause Russia mandated that. Next thing you know it's going to report back to the Great Firewall of China 'cause, well, that's what it took to get it sold over there.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I disagree. The really bad news is that this let's microsoft off the hook completely for the mess they have created.

      No matter which browser you choose on this ballot, IE is still going to be present on your machine and ready for internal idiots or external criminals to use. This changes nothing whatsoever.

      • I disagree. The really bad news is that this let's microsoft off the hook completely for the mess they have created.

        It was no fun [wikipedia.org] dangling on that hook while it lasted, however:

        "In March 2004, the EU ordered Microsoft to pay €497 million ($794 million or £381 million)"

        "In December 2005 the EU announced that it believed Microsoft did not comply fully with the ruling, stating that the company did not disclose appropriate information about its server programs. The EU said that it would begin to fine Microsoft €2 million (US$3.20 million or £1.53 million) a day until it did so."

        "On 12 July 2006, the EU

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Why should it? The OS doesn't belong to the US government. It belongs to Microsoft. If they want to make the default browser IE, it's their business. If you don't like it, use Ubuntu. I don't like IE, but even more I don't like the government pretending that they own everything.
  • by ThePromenader (878501) on Friday December 18, 2009 @01:59AM (#30484012) Homepage Journal

    I really think the EU is missing the point in this "anti-trust" case: the fact that the consumer doesn't have a choice in what OS comes with his computer doesn't bother anyone?

    • by causality (777677) on Friday December 18, 2009 @02:06AM (#30484040)

      I really think the EU is missing the point in this "anti-trust" case: the fact that the consumer doesn't have a choice in what OS comes with his computer doesn't bother anyone?

      I think the reasoning is that it's not illegal to have this sort of monopoly (on OSes), but it's illegal to abuse it in such a way that you leverage it in order to dominate other markets, like browsers. Since they leveraged the Windows monopoly to make IE a dominant browser, the government is focusing their anti-trust efforts on browser choice specifically. At least that's what I think their reasoning is, though I'm no lawyer.

      • by jasonwc (939262) on Friday December 18, 2009 @02:17AM (#30484076)

        As a law student that has taken Antitrust law, I can confirm that that IS the logic. Essentially, it is not illegal to maintain a policy by historic accident, market preference, or even government fiat. However, it is illegal to leverage your monopoly in one area to create a monopoly in another field or to use anticompetitive tactics to maintain your monopoly.

        For example, if MS refused to sell Windows 7 licenses to companies that also sold pre-installed Linux computers, that would likely be an antitrust violation, because MS would be maintaining its monopoly by anti competitive means rather than maintaining it as a result of mere customer preference.

        However, IE would not be in the dominant position it is today if it weren't for MS's use of its OS monopoly to create a monopoly in the browser market. The EU wants users to have a choice of browsers to prevent just this behavior. Europe also generally has much higher Firefox penetration than the US, so I would not' be surprised if this does have an impact.

      • by master_p (608214)

        Politicians or other middle men may get a commission (or other benefits) from Microsoft in order to promote the use of Windows. Browsers don't cost anything, and so politicians can play the political game of fairness.

    • The problem is they don't want a choice. There are plenty of other operating systems for PCs, Linux of course being the one everyone around here would think about. However consumers don't seem to want any of those. There is just next to zero demand for Linux on desktop systems. Companies have tried it, and their sales have been abysmal. Workstations and servers are a different story, and indeed you find it often IS an option. However on the desktop, people want Windows.

      • by Trelane (16124)
        A third of all netbooks is "abysmal"?! In addition, netbooks were selling like hotcakes before Microsoft brought back XP from the dead. It's that
        1. people are comfortable with what they know, and all most people know is Windows (even if there're major UI changes, it still has the right brand name to make them feel safe
        2. People feel forced into it because of their prior software and hardware choices
        3. People feel forced into it because it's what everyone else uses (either just feelings or because they receive pro
    • They cant fix everything at once. So far they fixed Samba documentation and browser thing AFAIK, Thats more then other countries combined
  • by wiredlogic (135348) on Friday December 18, 2009 @02:10AM (#30484052)

    Their hegemonic empire will not be torn down in the name of equality if Lynx isn't included in the list of choices. They should also be forced to include alternatives to Paint and Notepad. That they have the audacity to continue bundling these applications is a slap to the face of every righteous EU official. They may also want to look into rumors that Apple is bundling a single web browser into their own OS at the expense of other meritorious alternatives.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Apple actually bundled MS IE for many years, until MS announced it would discontinue support.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by omfgnosis (963606)

        Just to add a little clarification: MS discontinued support for Mac IE when their contract with Apple ran out. Apple had a new browser in development for some time before that because they knew Mac IE would be discontinued. It's not as if MS changed course.

    • by arkhan_jg (618674) on Friday December 18, 2009 @06:31AM (#30485158)

      And yet again, someone misunderstands antitrust laws. If you accept that a free market is a good thing, then you also need to accept that regulation is required to keep it free. Without competition, free markets cannot function; monopolies are dangerous and anti-competitive, and mean prices rise for customers in the long run.

      Having a monopoly isn't illegal. Having two monopolies isn't illegal. Bundling isn't illegal. Having one monopoly, then using bundling with that monopoly to gain a second monopoly, and to prop up your monopolies via mutual lock-in IS illegal. A monopoly isn't 100% of a market; it's a large enough share such that it is utterly dominant. 90% of the market is more than sufficent in microsoft's case.

      Apple does not have a monopoly in the desktop OS market, nor is safari a browser monopoly so bundling is ok. Neither paint or notepad have a monopoly in the image editing or document editing markets, so again bundling is A-OK. Free market competition is not threatened by them at this point.

      Microsoft have a desktop monopoly. By bundling IE as the default 'free' browser (i.e. the price is included in windows) they gained a monopoly in the browser market. This in itself is not nececessarily a problem, but given microsoft's habit of also including custom extensions to the spec that promote lock-in, i.e. ActiveX it becomes a problem. Take a real world example; in Korea, online banking almost invariably requires activex, because 'everybody' has it. By having activex tied to the IE monopoly, which is tied to the windows monopoly, it means in order to do online banking there, you need to buy windows. Browser competitors and OS competitors are almost entirely locked out of the market, damaging customer choice and competition. And with no competition, microsoft can charge what the hell they like.

      The same applies to the proprietary codecs bundled as part of media player; there was a real danger a few years ago that streaming video and audio online would gravitate to the WMV and WMA standards, which defacto only work in windows (patents providing lock-in), and mainly in IE. So by bundling media player's proprietary codecs with windows 'for free' there was a danger that microsoft would also gain a monopoly in the streaming video/audio market, and again harm competition and ultimately prices. As it happened, flash ended up winning, but it could have gone very differently, and may still if agreement cannot be reached with HTML5 for cross-platform support.

      Providing a popup choice at first install may not be my preferred solution, but at least it means microsoft don't get an automatic free ride from customers with windows and IE who don't bother to look into the alternatives because they already have a bundled solution.

    • by itsdapead (734413)

      They should also be forced to include alternatives to Paint and Notepad.

      Riiiight... because if you have Paint and Notepad, why on earth would you want any other graphics or wordprocessing software? Adobe must be quaking in their boots (and guess who pwn3s the wordprocessing market anyway). Oh, plus, those apps were part of Windows since before Windows had any market share (pretty sure they were in Windows 1.0 in the late 80s). IE, however, was parachuted in circa Windows 95 when the MS monopoly was at its height and Netscape, Opera et. al. had established businesses producing

  • Thats MS's desire. Its been shown that when people are overwhelmed with choices they go with what they know.
    • Thats MS's desire. Its been shown that when people are overwhelmed with choices they go with what they know.

      No, that's not really their desire, but they did acquiesce and that does happen to be a known phenomenon that will likely somewhat mitigate the effects that the browser ballot screen is intended to have on Internet Explorer's market share. MS's true desire is to keep the status quo and not let any consumer have an easy chance to choose anything else but their product. Evidence is that they have fought tooth and nail ever since the EU proposed the ballot screen and only gave up after spending oodles of cash

  • Ballot? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sexconker (1179573)

    Ballot? It's a menu.

    Nice choice of words trying to spin this as a democratic / freedom / choice thing.
    It's simply MS being forced to help their competition.

    Whether or not you agree with the reasoning behind it is irrelevant - there's no reason to call a simple fucking menu a ballot.

    I believe that IE should be the only browser provided by MS, and no menu should be forced upon them. But IE should be completely removable (in Vista and 7 not XP; XP needs it for updates) via the ol' add/remove windows componen

  • Waste of Time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Toreo asesino (951231) on Friday December 18, 2009 @04:35AM (#30484594) Journal

    ...for most users I'd imagine. The number of people I've seen close Norton/McAfee messages that say "For Gods' sake man, you're trial-ware virus subscription have expired - your computer could literally be ass-raped any minute!" leads me to think most users won't give a shit about other browsers.

    What happens if you close the ballot screen? Nothing I suspect. This'll just be a case of all but mildly technically curious people closing it and clicking the blue "E" anyway.

    Anyway, after all this I think it's for the good. If nothing else it makes Apple seem a little more evil; I hope all the fanbois realise the same shake-down will happen to their beloved MacOS X should ever come close to the domination it apparently deserves.. Anyway, I for one don't miss the days of pure IE domination & 'marque' tags floating around, so again this is a good thing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pmontra (738736)

      There is a common misunderstanding in your post.

      The ballot screen is there not because of MS' market domination but because MS abused of that dominant position.

      If Apple ever gets to dominate the market and doesn't abuse of it, Apple will never be forced to place a ballot on screen.

      Again: the EU is not punishing MS for being successful but because of what they did to win against competitors.

    • by Phroggy (441)

      ...for most users I'd imagine. The number of people I've seen close Norton/McAfee messages that say "For Gods' sake man, you're trial-ware virus subscription have expired - your computer could literally be ass-raped any minute!" leads me to think most users won't give a shit about other browsers.

      Yeah, those users are funny. If you ask them whether they have antivirus software installed, they'll say "Yes, I think I have Norton... but oh yeah, that reminds me, I get this popup every time I turn my computer on, and I have to close it. Do you know how to fix that?"

      Read, people! It's not that hard!

  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Friday December 18, 2009 @05:23AM (#30484860) Homepage

    At no point will Microsoft "slipstream" the ballot into a production version of Windows -- say, Windows 7 Service Pack 1, or Windows 8. The ballot will always be delivered as a Windows Update item.

    In other words the user will have already been using the machine for some time, they will have got used to clicking the IE icon and ... this pesky ballot appears ... oh, well, these mysterious things happen, just wait for it to complete ... go back to using IE as he was used to.

    This should have been included at first boot time, along with asking you for your timezone, etc.

  • How many browsers will be on the ballot? Twelve altogether, but just five on the first page.
    The first five are Apple's Safari, Google's Chrome, Microsoft's IE, Mozilla's Firefox and Opera. On a second screen, the ballot will list AOL, Maxthon, K-Meleon, Flock, Avant Browser, Sleipnir and SlimBrowser.

    Seriously? They should just have stuck with the first five. Plus IE will *still* be installed by default, so this won't solve anything.

  • How they choose (Score:2, Informative)

    "For each of the usage share sources listed in Annex D, web browser usage share will be determined semi-annually by averaging monthly usage share data for the previous six months for which such data is available, with shares for different released versions of the same vendor’s browsers added together to determine a browser’s total usage share (e.g., Firefox 2.0, 3.0, 3.5, etc. all count towards the total share for “Mozilla Firefox”). No more than one browser will be listed per vendor

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