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Mozilla execs want changes to Microsoft's 'ballot screen' proposal

They're concerned about Windows Update, download process, Office links

August 18, 2009 03:59 PM ET

Computerworld - Mozilla executives today began a concerted campaign to prod European Union (EU) antitrust regulators to demand more from Microsoft than the browser "ballot screen" Windows will offer users later this year.

Both Mitchell Baker, the former CEO of Mozilla and the chairwoman of Mozilla Foundation, and Harvey Anderson, Mozilla's chief counsel, posted lengthy blogs, citing concerns with Microsoft's proposal and spelling out changes they want to see.

John Lilly, Mozilla's current CEO, confirmed that the messages from Mitchell and Anderson were part of a company-wide plan. "It's part of our effort to get across our point of view," he said in an interview. "In principle, [Microsoft's proposal] sounds good, but in practice, the way they implement it will make a big difference."

Mozilla's top executives were reacting to a proposal Microsoft submitted July 24, when it told Brussels-based antitrust officials that it would give Windows users a chance to download rivals' browsers.

A key part of that plan would be a "ballot screen" that EU Windows users would see if IE was set as the default browser. Under Microsoft's proposal, the ballot will offer links to downloads of Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari, Google's Chrome and Opera Software's Opera.

In January 2009, the European Commission filed charges against Microsoft, accusing the company of shielding IE from competition by including it with Windows. Since then, Microsoft has made several moves, including offering a "kill switch" in Windows 7 that lets users disable IE, to fend off fines and even tougher antitrust actions against its software.

The commission's charges stemmed from a December 2007 complaint filed by Norwegian browser maker Opera.

Today, Baker, who has been blogging regularly on the topic since January, argued that if the proposal is accepted, IE will still enjoy most-favored-browser status.

"Even if everything in the currently proposed settlement is implemented in the most positive way, IE will still have a unique and uniquely privileged position on Windows installations," Baker said. She listed several aspects of the proposal that trouble Mozilla, including IE's continued prominence on the desktop, the unfair advantage IE would have even if other browsers can be downloaded, and the possibility that Microsoft might try to convince users to switch back to IE through manipulation of Windows Update, the operating system's default update service.

"The importance of the myriad of details makes it very difficult to predict how effective the proposed remedies will be, or the extent of any side-effects," Baker said.

While Baker used broader strokes to paint the proposal as unclear at best, unfair at worst, Anderson got down to specifics. Among his concerns: Windows Update; IE's ties with other Microsoft software, particularly Office; the download conundrum competitors face; and Microsoft's plan not to eliminate IE if the user chooses an alternative.



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