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European Commission Asks If New Ballot Can Depose Microsoft Internet Explorer

Posted  October 14, 2009

Anyone who doubts that ballot design can change the course of the world needs to revisit the infamous Butterfly Ballot’s pivotal role in George Bush’s unusual path to the U.S. presidency.

Perhaps realizing the decisive effects ballot design can have, the European Commission is seeking comments on a proposed Microsoft Web Browser Ballot that could weaken Microsoft Internet Explorer’s global domination.

The European Commission is inviting software companies, computer manufacturers, consumers and other interested parties to submit comments on the Microsoft proposal to offer users of its Windows operating system a greater choice of web browsers.

Microsoft hopes the proposal will settle the web browser chapter of its long-running antitrust dispute with EU antitrust enforcers.

In January 2009, Microsoft received a Statement of Objections from the Commission, the result of an investigation triggered by a December 2007 complaint by Norwegian web browser developer Opera Software. The Commission reached the preliminary conclusion that Microsoft had abused its dominant position in the market for PC operating systems by tying its Internet Explorer web browser to its Windows operating system, which let to 90% of the world’s PCs being equipped with Explorer.

In June, Microsoft announced it would separate Explorer from Windows. However, the Commission was unconvinced that this was enough to ensure consumers a greater choice of browsers.

In July, Microsoft offered to go one step further and include in Windows a ballot screen from which PC users could easily choose and install competing web browsers. Following discussions with the Commission, Microsoft last month submitted a revised proposal which provides for a more user-friendly ballot window offering access to details about each competing browser.

The ballot screen would appear in all Windows versions sold within the European Economic Area (i.e., the 27 EU Member States and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) for the next five years. In addition, PC manufacturers would be allowed to install competing web browsers on their products, set those as default, and even disable Internet Explorer.

Comments may be submitted to the Commission until November 9.

Tagged in: International Competition Issues,