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How Europe's Mandated Browser Ballot Screen Works 169

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 ) <orionblastar&gmail,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 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 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 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 Anonymous Coward on Friday December 18, 2009 @02:22AM (#30484092)

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

  • by jasonwc ( 939262 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @02:51AM (#30484208)

    The EU believes that simply making it obvious to users that a) there are choices and b) that installing and using another browser is easy to do, and in no way abnormal or dangerous.

    If MS thought that the ballot screen wouldn't affect it's IE user base, than it wouldn't have fought so hard to ban it. In fact, they offered to sell the OS with NO BROWSER as an alternative to providing a ballot screen!

    In addition, MS has refused to provide a ballot screen to non-EU users. North America, for example, will NOT get the ballot. Why fight the ballot so hard if it's going to have no impact? I think MS believes it will have an impact, and therefore is attempting to limit it to as few users as possible.

    It's incredible how few people know that alternative browsers exist. I've heard people refer to IE as "the internet" or alternatively refer to any browser as IE/Explorer/Internet Explorer. IE, to many non-technical users, is synonymous with the browser. It's like saying "kleenex" whem you mean "tissue".

    And there are a LOT of users that use IE, with knowledge of alternatives, out of sheer resistance to change. If they saw a ballot screen when they got a new computer rather than just IE, they might be willing to try something else.

    Behavioral Law & Economics has shown that pretty much any default position is going to significantly impact user decisions. For example, in the US we have an "opt in" system with regard to organ donation and around 10-15% participation. In Europe, there's an "opt out" system with 80-90% participation. There may be cultural differences, but it's likely that most of the difference is merely due to the impact of opt-in/opt-out.

    That's why academics like Cass Sunstein at Harvard have suggested that a default position of doing nothing is actually a non-neutral starting point. He argues, for example, that employees should automatically be signed up for a 401(k), and have the choice to opt-out, because when individuals are asked in studies whether they want to participate in such a program, the vast majority say yes, yet participation is FAR higher when opt-out is the default.

  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @03:39AM (#30484422) Homepage

    ...and yet you suddenly forget, on Slashdot, that other browsers had a hard time largely due to practices of MS.

    And no, it isn't a case of "well, but only Opera has such pitiful market share of all the alternatives" BS. You seem to also forget that Europe is not US; there are countries here where Opera is far ahead of FF, for example. And Safari generally doesn't exist.

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @05:21AM (#30484852)

    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 it is you can pick your own poison.

    It would be great if the next step would be to have a selection of various operating systems to select from at first boot.

  • by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <> 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.

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller