Browser Bingo

bingoImage by hownowdesign via FlickrWay back in 2007 the European Commission and Microsoft began a legal dispute over competition concerns regarding Microsoft’s domination in the European user space. In December of 2009 the dialogue between the EC and Microsoft ended, culminating in a resolution that would aid in easy interoperability with various software and force Microsoft to force browser choice on its current European users.

A large part of the agreements by Microsoft deals with browser choice for OEMs and end users on Windows 7, XP, and Vista operating systems. Starting the week of March 1st, users in 30 European nations with IE as their default browser may start seeing an introductory screen pop up on their machines. This introductory screen, only seen after installing the relevant Microsoft update and restarting their systems, will explain the purpose behind the subsequent choice screen.

The choice screen will display 12 of the most used browsers in random order, with the top 5 highest ranked browsers displayed randomly in the first positions. The idea behind the settlement is to prevent monopoly holdings for any one vendor and create a fair presentation of consumer options, but this top 5 configuration will obviously give the bigger guns a better aim at end user installment. Internet Explorer, as a major holder of the browsing community, will then always be listed in the first few slots.

So, what will user reaction be to all this? I’m guessing more confusion than anything else. Part of the update being sent out will allow IE to be turned off, it will “unpin” the IE icon from the taskbar and, where IE is turned off, “no icons, links or shortcuts or any other means will appear within Windows to start a download or installation of Internet Explorer.” (microsoft commitments document) Then users will be given a choice to select their browser.

I know that some people need to be presented their options in a supermarket fashion, like side by side sodas in the snacks aisle, where Coke is next to Pepsi and the generic version, but I don’t think this is an ultimate solution to the problem. For the less clueful users who “just want to get on the internet”, this may just create problems. Those same users, who are now presented with a browser lineup, may not understand or try to understand what their options actually are. In all likelihood they will recognize Internet Explorer from the list given them and click on install without reading the additional information.

For the users who already understand the choice of browser usage, they have already made their choice. They don’t need any more education and, likely not having IE as their default browser, won’t see the new choice screen. Efforts like this to change bias will likely be ineffective in producing real change or raising awareness to the right people. The bias of users comes from long term ignorance, disinterest, marketing inundation, and comfort level on the internet. None of this will be reversed by what many users will just view as more pop ups.

Matt Sully
Threat Research & Analysis

Microsoft On the Issues

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