Report: Browser makers contest Microsoft browser ballot deal

Opera, Mozilla and Google request changes to ballot screen, says New York Times

Microsoft's rivals have asked European antitrust regulators to modify the ballot screen that would give Windows users the chance to choose which browser they use in Windows, according to a report by the New York Times.

Microsoft's rivals have asked European antitrust regulators to modify the ballot screen that would give Windows users the chance to choose which browser they use in Windows, according to a report by the New York Times .

Opera Software, which sparked the investigation into Microsoft's bundling of Internet Explorer (IE), Mozilla and Google will each send separate letters to the European Commission suggesting changes to the proposal put forward by Microsoft last summer, said the newspaper.

"We hope the commission is open to fixing the remedy," Hakon Wium Lie, Opera's chief technology officer, told the New York Times Wednesday. "It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make sure there is a working market for browsers. I don't think we are going to get another chance."

Google, which makes the Chrome browser, declined to confirm that it is sending a letter to the commission. "We don't know how the commission's proceeding will evolve," William Echikson, a Google spokesman based in Brussels, said early Thursday in a telephone interview with Computerworld . "But we continue to believe that more competition in this space will mean greater innovation on the Web and a better user experience."

Mozilla also would not confirm that it has sent suggestions to the commission. "Our concerns were stated previously and we're confident that the EC is well aware of our position, including support for the resolution of the investigation," said a Mozilla spokesman today.

Opera did not respond to a request for further comment Thursday.

In early October, the commission tentatively approved Microsoft's plan, which would offer European users of Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 a Web-based page showing five browsers, then let them select which they would install and run on their PCs. To get that preliminary approval, Microsoft made several changes to its original July proposal.

But Opera and Mozilla have been vocal about their dissatisfaction with Microsoft's original plan, and with the revised concept that has been market tested by regulators for the last month.

In August, for example, Mozilla executives cited several concerns about the ballot screen. At the time, Mitchell Baker, the chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation and the former CEO of Mozilla Corp., which produces Firefox, said that if Microsoft's proposal were accepted, IE would "still have a unique and uniquely privileged position on Windows installations."

For its part, Opera has also been wary of Microsoft's plan. In July, Lie said Opera would suggest changes to the commission and argued that Microsoft should expand the deal to include all users, not only those in Europe.

More recently, a Mozilla designer criticized the ballot layout for giving preference to Apple's Safari based on the alphabetical ranking by browser maker. "Safari has the smallest market share of the five other browsers," said Jenny Boriss in an Oct. 14 entry on her blog. Later, she edited the blog entry to say that the opinions were her own, and not that of her company.

Boriss countered that it would be fairer if the first position -- the browser at the far left of the five that will be shown on the first screen -- was selected randomly each time it was presented to users.

In a follow-up blog entry published Monday, Boriss again denigrated the layout, claiming that it gave IE more than three times the space than rivals' browsers because the ballot would be displayed within the frame of Internet Explorer.

Opera wants the ballot to be stripped of any Microsoft logo, which would presumably mean that IE could not be used to display the ballot, and a promise that Microsoft would prevent Windows from displaying any warnings, such as Vista's and Windows 7's user account control (UAC) prompts, when people pick an IE alternative to download and install.

Other ideas that surfaced previously include a so-called "native" application to show the ballot, a move that would entirely eliminate the need to run IE.

Neelie Kroes, the current head of the EU's antitrust agency, seemed satisfied last month with the proposal. "We believe this is an answer," said Kroes in a press conference Oct. 7. "At the end of the day, that's what we are looking for."

Sources have said it's likely that Kroes wants to resolve the dispute with Microsoft before the end of the year, when her term as the commission head expires. An early December date is most likely, those sources have said. That would mean Microsoft would push the ballot to users via Windows Update in February 2010.

Interested parties, including the three browser makers, have until Monday to file comments with the commission.

This story, "Report: Browser makers contest Microsoft browser ballot deal" was originally published by Computerworld.

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