Microsoft Whiffs on Browser Choice Screen in Windows 7, Incites European Commission Wrath

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News Posted: Wed, Jul 18 2012 1:41 AM
It’s a good bet that someone’s head at Microsoft is going to roll because of this one: Whether it was an honest mistake--a “technical error”, as Microsoft said in a press release--or some half-baked nefarious plot to cripple Web browser competition, the European Commission is displeased with Microsoft’s failure to comply with a 2009 edict that the company allow users overseas to choose their preferred browser when starting up their Windows machine instead of being handed Internet Explorer by default.

Microsoft had to add a Browser Choice Screen (BCS) on its Windows PCs sold in Europe, and as far as anyone can tell, the company abided by the ruling--until Windows 7 Service Pack 1 was released in February 2011. Apparently, the BCS was missing, and has been until now, for as estimated 28 million users. Worse, Microsoft officially lied about it (whether intentionally or not), stating in a December 2011 report to the EC on the matter that it had maintained compliance.

Ballmer Mea Culpa
Microsoft cops to a technical error; CEO Ballmer likely to be unhappy (Image: AP)

Nobody in the EC noticed the omission for about a year and a half; recent reports from third parties finally brought it to the group’s attention, which in turn let Microsoft know about it, apparently with both barrels. Microsoft copped to the “technical error” that caused the removal of the BCS in a statement and said that it was conducting an outside investigation into the matter, interviewing employees and looking through documents, and would give a report to the EC.

Browser Choice Screen
Image credit: Browserchoice.eu

In a rather heavy-handed statement on the matter, EC VP Joaquin Almunia said, “We are now opening formal proceedings against the company. If following our investigation, this breach is confirmed – and Microsoft seems to acknowledge the facts here – this could have severe consequences. Needless to say, we take compliance with our decision very seriously. If the infringement is confirmed, there will be sanctions.”

Microsoft may be on the hook for some big money here, even though ensuring compliance was evidently a rather low priority for the EC.
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Does the European Union really think it's citizens are too stupid to know how to pick their own browser. This capability already exists. It's called navigate to your browser of choices website and download it. I would think by now people are aware enough that there are alternative browsers. Especially in Europe. I can excuse this in America where there is a much higher ignorance of alternative browsers, but over seas I thought they were more aware. So to force a company to add some splash screen seems really dumb.

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mhenriday replied on Wed, Jul 18 2012 11:49 AM

Unfortunately, even here in enlightened Europe - specifically Sweden - many, parrticularly elder users, still believe that Internet Explorer is «the Internet». It was for that reason that the European Commissioner concerned, Neelie Kroes (aka «Steely Neelie»), who took the matter of promoting competition seriously indeed, saw to it that not only was Microsoft fined for its anti-competitive activities, but also required, as a part of the agreement, to install a browser-choice screen. For some reason, the news that in connexion with the release of Win7 SP1 - a year after Ms Kroes had been assigned a different EC portfolio - a «technical error» occurred which suddenly removed the BCS does not come as a surprise. My hope is that Señor Almunia, who thus far doesn't seem to have quite been able to fill Ms Kroes' shoes, takes this matter as seriously as she would have, and that the sanctions applied to Microsoft will prove sufficient to deter further anti-competitive manoeuvres on its part....

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CDeeter replied on Wed, Jul 18 2012 1:42 PM

Have to agree with you on this one. It's just not that hard to get the browser you want.

As to Henri's point about uneducated users, how many of them actually change the default browser on their device? Whatever that device may be, I'd guess very few. If these users don't have the knowledge to accomplish this basic task, then what good does it do to confuse them with a choice of browsers that they have no knowledge of, nor the ability to discern the difference between them, other than which is prettier? Most likely, those who have a preference for a specific browser, know how to download and install it.

If the EU is going to require MS to do this, then all OS's should have to going forward. iOS, OSx, and Android are well represented when you consider all the internet capable devices that are available today. No reason they should not be forced to offer their competitor's product too.

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lipe123 replied on Wed, Jul 18 2012 1:54 PM

The whole thing is a bloody joke.

Browsers are ALL FREE. No one is losing money because their browser isn't being used.

What about google? I'm surprised the EU hasnt forced google to put a "are you sure you don't want to use bing or yahoo" splash screen when european users goto google.

These "regulatory" bodies seem to just regulate for the sake of regulation and don't really care about the users they are supposed to represent and also does not apply the same standards to everything.

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ThePinkus replied on Wed, Jul 18 2012 2:08 PM

From an European consumer,

I never cared for the browser choice "update", and once I discovered what it was I always skipped it (and I am still figuring out if I should feel offended by its existance).

From an European IT manager,

I use MS's WSUS to keep the clients in our domains updated, and of course I never considered supporting the browser choice.

What I mean is that, beyond any consideration on MS use of its dominant position, the solution that the EC came to impose is just another hassle for the European consumer/worker. And I do not feel that it adds anything to my freedom of choice. I would expect that the aim of the EC is to protect its citizens. I don't feel I am helped with this.

And what is MS accused for, to give You a browser togheter with its OS? Because no one else do that, right?

This is an approach that could have made sense when we used DOS, today an OS without a browser is not something that You can sell to consumers. How would You install the browser You want if You don't have a browser in Your OS? I suppose You would have to walk to the shop and buy a CD with the browser, wait, do I have to buy a browser too?

I wonder what the EC should plan in the face of the tendency to "put all that is supposed to be installed in my OS in my very own store" (and don't tell people the store isn't the World).

Considering this seems to be everyone's plan (or at least desire), putting into the OS a browser that can be replaced the moment we fire that OS up is something really endangering our freedom?

I suppose that if we want to bash MS we can do better than using this argument.

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mhenriday replied on Wed, Jul 18 2012 3:04 PM

I seem to be outvoted here, but I shan't bother repeating my arguments. Instead, allow me to cite Samuel Langhorne Clemens : «It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse-races»....

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RiCoFrost replied on Wed, Jul 18 2012 8:46 PM

Are they really that dumb over there they can't do it on their own? I mean how hard is it really?

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RiCoFrost replied on Wed, Jul 18 2012 8:47 PM

The EU is low on cash so they have to make it up some how.

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Of course Europeans are not that stupid. It's just the European Commissariat's way of tapping into new sources of revenue.

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mhenriday replied on Thu, Jul 19 2012 6:37 AM

«European Commission», Fierce Guppy - or is your «error» deliberate ?...

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HuwOS replied on Thu, Jul 19 2012 1:49 PM

"Are they really that dumb over there they can't do it on their own? I mean how hard is it really?"

Well in Europe, where the choice was offered, in June 2010 the stats on browser usage from AT Internet Institute showed IE with a 53.8% share, Firefox 30.6%, Safari and Chrome with 6.8% and 5.7% respectively.

There are no directly comparable US stats for the same time period.

But Global stats for Jun 2010 from StarOwl have

IE on 63.37% Firefox 21.26% Safari 8.52% and Chrome 6.24%

So, in the rest of the world, where the availability of choice wasn't made clear IE retained a higher usage share, and Firefox seemed to suffer for it but, but Chrome did better if marginally and Safari did quite considerably better, but perhaps Apple has a larger share of the market outside of the EU than within, I don't know and haven't checked.

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mhenriday replied on Thu, Jul 19 2012 2:55 PM

Perhaps the best tool for comparing development of the web-browser market in different regions is the GlobalStats provided by StatCounter. Detailed statistics for Europe during the period 20080701 - 20120719 can be found here (http://gs.statcounter.com/#browser-eu-daily-20080701-20120719) those for the United States here (http://gs.statcounter.com/?PHPSESSID=2uhekkvpqjb5p3p1n8ii79gb22#browser-US-daily-20080701-20120719). The browser-choice website was created by Microsoft in March 2010 pursuant to the European Commission decision of December 2009 ; Microsoft's official statement regarding the «technical error» which somehow lead to the omission of browser choice software from computers sold at retail with Windows 7 Service Pack 1 installed can be found here (http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/press/2012/Jul12/07-17statement.aspx)....

As to the level of intelligence exhibited by European residents compared to that of their counterparts in the United States, I suggest that that is a question best discussed outside this forum....

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3vi1 replied on Sat, Jul 21 2012 2:26 PM

"As to the level of intelligence exhibited by European residents compared to that of their counterparts in the United States, I suggest that that is a question best discussed outside this forum..."

Are you kidding?!?!  I'm not stepping outside with those guys:  They've had years of practice fighting as soccer hooligans!  Big Smile

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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