RealTime IT News

Microsoft to Begin Rolling Out 'Choice Screen'

Microsoft said it will begin external testing next week in the U.K., Belgium and France of the so-called browser "choice screen" mandated by the company's settlement with the European Commission (EC).

Full-scale roll-out of the choice screen, which aims to give European consumers a selection of browsers to choose from when they first start up a PC, is scheduled to begin around March 1, according to a Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) blog post Friday. That's approximately two weeks earlier than originally planned, the post said.

"The browser choice screen software update will be offered as an automatic download through Windows Update for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, Dave Heiner, Microsoft's deputy general counsel, wrote in the blog post. "The software update will be installed automatically, or will prompt you to download or install it, depending on which operating system you are running and your settings for Windows Update."

Users who have disabled automatic updates can download the choice screen by starting Windows Update and selecting "Check for Updates," Heiner said.

The adoption of the choice screen model was the deciding factor in the December settlement, which ended the commission's complaint against the company for what it deemed illegal bundling of Internet Explorer (IE) with Windows since 1996.

The case began in January 2009, when the EC alleged that Microsoft had used its dominant position in PC operating systems to stifle competition in the market for browsers.

After months of haggling, last summer Microsoft knuckled under and agreed to the choice screen, which was also described as a "ballot screen." Under the final terms of the resolution ironed out by the parties, the user will be presented with a screen listing -- in random order -- the most popular browsers from which to choose.

The user will then have three choices: to install one of the browsers, to find out more information about any of the available browsers or to make that decision at a later date.

However, as Heiner's post points out, there is no such mandate for PC makers in the EU. Under the settlement's terms, PC OEMs can still choose to install IE or any other browser as the default with new systems delivered in the EU, without any interference from Microsoft or the EC.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.