EU, Microsoft agree on browser ballot, testing to start soon

Internet Explorer logoMicrosoft and the European Commission have come to an agreement on a browser ballot that current and future Windows users will use to select a default browser for their PCs. Unless there's a huge uproar over the latest proposal, the EU's investigation into Microsoft's allegedly-anticompetitive browser bundling should soon draw to a close.

The European Commission's investigation into Microsoft's bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows may be winding down, as the Commission has announced plans to begin testing the browser ballot proposed this past July by Microsoft. Starting Friday, consumers, OEMs, developers, and "other interested parties" will have a chance to speak their mind on the browser ballot.

In deciding to move ahead with the browser ballot, the EC cited improvements made to Microsoft's original proposal. One of those is pictured above: before the ballot actually appears on the screen, users are educated on what, exactly, a browser does. ("It's what you use to surf the Internet.") Once users confirm that they are connected to the Internet, the ballot itself appears.

Microsoft has also made some modifications to the browser screen, as shown above. You can see some changes from the original proposal, most notably the inclusion of "Tell me more" buttons for each browser and a note explaining that Internet Explorer has been unpinned from the taskbar. Users will be presented with a list of browser options and can choose to learn more about a particular browser or go ahead and download an alternative to IE 8. Users will also be able to fully remove IE8 from Windows 7 if they so desire. Although the mechanism is not spelled out, current Windows users will also see the browser ballot screen and will be able to switch from IE if they want.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, all Windows PCs sold within the European Economic Area for the next five years will contain the ballot. Mozilla, Opera, and other browser makers will still be able to negotiate deals with PC manufacturers to have their browsers bundled as the default option with new systems.

Microsoft is pleased with the latest developments in the ongoing case. "We welcome today's announcement by the European Commission to move forward with formal market testing of Microsoft’s proposal relating to web browser choice in Europe," said Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith in a statement. "We also welcome the opportunity to take the next step in the process regarding our proposal to promote interoperability with a broad range of our products."

Today's announcement also includes what appears to be a resolution for the years-old interoperability tussle between the EU and Redmond. Microsoft is promising to further improve interoperability with all sorts of competing products, committing to making sure third-party developers—both commercial and open source—have the technical resources they need to make sure their software and hardware plays nicely with Microsoft's solutions. Microsoft will also ensure that its products fully support industry standards.

If the comments on the latest ballot mockups are positive, the nearly two-year-old investigation of Microsoft will draw to a close—without any multimillion-euro fines. The process began in December 2007 with a complaint filed by Norwegian browser maker Opera, in which it accused Microsoft of anticompetitive behavior for not only bundling IE with all versions of Windows, but also for not fully supporting Web standards. The revised browser ballot and improved standards support in IE8 should go a long way towards quelling the critics and ensuring that browsers have a level playing field in Europe.

Source: ars technica

Tags: browsers, Internet Explorer, Microsoft, Windows 7

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