Opera Software is, as expected, preening over the expected forthcoming ballot box feature in Windows 7. When European Windows 7 users fire up their machines, the box will ask which browser they would like to install by default. This will put the Opera name in front of millions of users who probably never considered it. But that's not all. Opera CTO, Håkon Wium Lie, feels that today's decision will force Microsoft to make Internet Explorer do a better job of supporting standards, particularly the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). Lie would also like to see Apple and Linux makers follow suit with browser ballet boxes of their own.
The browser market has changed big time since Opera first filed its suit, a year-and-a-half ago. Firefox now accounts for over 20% of browsers, according Net Applications, with that share almost entirely at the expense of Internet Explorer. The argument that Windows has hampered browser competition may have been true in 2007, but it isn't in 2009. Opera, however, remains barely a blip, not even grabbing 1%.
I had noted this fact to Opera executives months ago, who told me that the battle was really for the enterprise. IT folks don't want to take on the administrative task of standardizing on another browser when one comes for free in the desktop, even if that browser does a notoriously bad job of supporting Web standards causing misery for an entire generation of Web developers.
In an e-mail interview, I asked Opera CTO, Håkon Wium Lie, if he thinks the ballot box achieved what Opera wanted.
Q: In what way will a ballot box option affect browser choice in the enterprise?
This is one of several open questions. We believe corporate users deserve better browsers, too.
Q: Giving the rise in popularity of Firefox in Europe, and now with the ballot box, how will Opera benefit?
Opera and our users will benefit in two ways. First, it will be easier to install Opera on Windows machines. Second, due to the increased competition stemming from the ballot box, browsers will improve their support for standards. This will result in a richer, faster web. For example, I believe that Microsoft's IE will add support for SVG, a standard that all browsers but IE support.
Q: In your opinion, should Apple also be expected to offer a ballot box for its computers? Should Ubuntu?
The Microsoft case is based on antitrust law, something that only applies to monopolies. Apple and Ubuntu are not monopolies as per the legal definition of a monopoly. Still, it may be a good idea to offer it; the browser is the most important tool for most of us, and having access to better browsers is a good thing.
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