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Browser Democracy: Microsoft To Offer Euros a Ballot

Democracy has kind of been an on-again, off-again concept in Europe over the centuries, but it's on again now in more ways than one.

In an attempt to get European Union regulators off the company's back, Microsoft has proposed offering a "ballot" of browsers from which users can choose in Windows 7 (as well as in XP and that other operating system, as Mary Jo Foley reveals).

OK, so maybe this doesn't fit the specific definition of democracy. After all, some browsers will be more equal than others, as Kurt Mackie's story linked above explains:

"Not every browser will make the ballot screen list, according to Microsoft's proposal.

'The Ballot Screen will be populated with the most widely used web browsers that run on Windows with a usage share of equal to or more than 0.5% in the EEA [European Economic Area] as measured semi-annually by a source commonly agreed between Microsoft and the European Commission, but not more than ten (not counting different versions of one and the same browser),' the proposal explains.

"In addition, the browser maker has to be 'actively' offering the browser for it to be included on the ballot screen."

While the whole browser-antitrust issue has mostly been as dead as Netscape in the U.S. for some time now, the EU is obviously still really worried about it. Microsoft's proposal seems fair enough, but it's also kind of ridiculous -- perhaps intentionally so on Microsoft's part.

We've always said here that Microsoft should be able to do what it wants with its own browser and OS. But beyond that, Firefox has been making progress in the U.S. and in Europe without any help from Microsoft. (It's your editor's preferred browser, actually.) Back in March, Firefox 3.0 actually surpassed IE 7 in European market share, at least for a while. Plus, bundling does not guarantee success for Microsoft; just look at Microsoft Money (RIP).  

Still, if a browser ballot satisfies the insatiable European appetite for regulation, let the candidates have their places. At least we won't have to worry with it here in the U.S. We'll still be able to use IE to download whichever other browser(s) we choose. (Would that make us less democratic than Europe on the browser front, though? Hmm, a question to ponder.)

We at RCPU have long maintained that the new browser wars are meaningless and that browsers -- which are, after all, free -- are really just a commodity and aren't that important in the grand scheme of most companies' (or partners') revenues.

The fairly organic growth of Firefox demonstrates that no one browser is going to dominate in the years to come the way IE once did, meaning application vendors (and browser vendors) will have to make their apps work equally well in any browser (which should already be the case, anyway). At that point, nobody will care whether a user is surfing in Safari, Chrome, IE or Opera. And maybe the EU will get on to bugging Microsoft about something else.  

Do you care at all about the new browser wars? If so, why? Send a note to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on July 29, 2009


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