While many may have thought the Windows browser battle was ancient history it is only today that the European Commission has officially finalised details of the agreement with Microsoft.
So what's the what? Under the commitments approved by the Commission, Microsoft will make available for five years a 'Choice Screen' enabling users of XP, Vista and Windows 7 to choose which web browser(s) they wish to install in addition to, or instead of, Microsoft Internet Explorer. The ballot screen (mock up image used) will be delivered to users via Windows Update, will only apply to European regions and its effectiveness reviewed every six months. In addition computer manufacturers will be able to install competing web browsers, set those as default and turn Internet Explorer off.
"Millions of European consumers will benefit from this decision by having a free choice about which web browser they use," said EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes. "Such choice will not only serve to improve people's experience of the Internet now but also act as an incentive for web browser companies to innovate and offer people better browsers in the future."
It's hard to argue with the logic of the decision either:
"The Commission’s preliminary view was that competition was distorted by Microsoft tying Internet Explorer to Windows. This was because it offered Microsoft an artificial distribution advantage not related to the merits of its product on more than 90 per cent of personal computers. Furthermore, the Commission's preliminary view was that this tying hindered innovation in the market and created artificial incentives for software developers and content providers to design their products or web sites primarily for Internet Explorer."
Cynics may argue Microsoft got itself into a position of dominance with Windows and should be able to bundle whatever they like and Mac OS X should also be subject to the same ruling and I have some sympathy with that viewpoint. Then again, with IE so horrendously off the pace and the majority of users still in that dark about superior alternatives it's hard not to be pleased at this outcome.
The only details we are now missing are 1. When will the ballot screen go live, 2. What does it look like? and 3. Which browsers will be offered and in what order? We've heard rumours that as many as 12 could be listed, but so many may serve only to confuse.
Still, we're glad this thorny issue is now resolved and it will be curious to see what happens to browser market share as a result. Now, if you don't mind I'll indulge myself in a moment of smugness. Back in June when the nonsensical Windows 7 E was announced I declared:
So if an effort to collect Microsoft's dummy and stick it firmly back into its mouth let me present two alternative sane solutions to this mess:
1. Bundle the major browsers with Windows 7 and give users a choice of which to install. Over time the versions will get old but it matters little given the inevitable Service Packs that will appear and automatic browser update notifications users will receive. This is hardly fantasyland since Microsoft is accustomed to providing third party drivers with Windows, so why not software?
2. Bundle Internet Explorer but the first time it runs make it load a web page highlighting the other browser options on the market. Since this is a web page the links can be kept up to date with the latest browser versions and market players. The presentation and wording of this page can be set by the European Commission.
Both options should work just fine. Oh and Microsoft, given the millions you waste on a crack legal team to come up with such nonsense as 'Windows 7 E' I'll let you have these little pieces of common sense for free...
Logic, it's a wonderful thing...