Euro Group Wants Browser Ballot Worldwide

Flush from playing a part in forcing Microsoft to let users in the European Union (EU) select which browser they want to use in Windows 7, an EU-based trade group is asking non-EU nations around the world to demand the same for their own countries.

The request by the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), which has frequently been critical of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), coincided with the official shipment of systems this week with the ballot screen. The ECIS membership list reads like a Who’s Who of Microsoft competitors, some of them bitter enemies of the company, including Opera, Oracle, IBM, and Red Hat.

The browser brouhaha began with a complaint to the EC in late 2007 by Norwegian browser publisher Opera regarding Microsoft’s bundling of Internet Explorer (IE) with Windows. Last year, the EC’s competition directorate issued a “statement of objections” to Microsoft saying that it viewed that practice as anticompetitive.

Microsoft’s executives and lawyers strongly disagreed but eventually agreed to provide users of new PCs as well as other users with a ballot screen — now referred to as a “choice screen” — that lets them choose which browser they want to use on first startup. The top five browsers, including IE, but also Safari, Firefox, and Opera, are displayed on the screen in a randomized order.

That’s great for Europeans, but the ECIS believes that the whole ballot screen idea should be instituted worldwide.

“The European initiative will help spur competition, but leaves most of the world’s computers with operating systems that are tied to Internet Explorer. We call on competition authorities around the world to look closely at what has happened in Europe and to act on behalf of their consumers,” said Thomas Vinje, ECIS legal counsel, in the ECIS’ statement.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft executives beg to differ.

“The issues in the Internet Explorer case have already been the subject of extensive legal action in several other countries around the world, including the United States, which have each developed their own legal solutions which are different than the browser choice screen pursued by the European Commission after years of litigation,” Kevin Kutz, Microsoft director of public affairs, said in an e-mail to

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

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