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Update: Browser makers question Microsoft-EU ballot plan

Opera, Mozilla and Google request changes to ballot screen

November 5, 2009 05:34 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft's rivals will ask European antitrust regulators to modify the ballot screen designed to give Windows users the chance to ditch Internet Explorer (IE) and choose another browser.

Opera Software, which sparked the investigation into Microsoft's bundling of IE, Mozilla and Google will each send separate letters to the European Commission suggesting changes to the proposal put forward by Microsoft last summer, according to Hakon Wium Lie, Opera's chief technology officer.

"In general, we're very happy with Microsoft's proposal because it gives consumers a choice of a better browser," said Lie today. "But we have some issues about the ballot."

Most important in Opera's eyes is that the ballot should be displayed outside of IE. Microsoft's plan would create an HTML-based ballot that would appear as a Web page within its own browser. "From the screenshots we've seen, we don't think it's right that the ballot appears within IE," said Lie. "If you're trying to provide a level playing field, you don't want it to be seen as subservient to IE. You wouldn't want a voting ballot that had a candidate's logo on the upper left corner, would you?"

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.

Opera wants the ballot displayed within a specially-designed application, or failing that, in IE's full-screen mode, which would eliminate the frame Microsoft's browser would put around the ballot.

Mozilla, which has also criticized Microsoft's ballot screen, has made a similar suggestion. In a blog entry published Monday, Jenny Boriss, a Firefox user experience designer, denigrated the ballot's layout and said that it gave IE more than three times the space than rivals' browsers because the ballot would be displayed within Internet Explorer. Boriss said that her recommendation was her own, not Mozilla's official company line.

Last month, Boriss blasted the ballot for giving preference to Apple's Safari based on the alphabetical ranking by browser maker. Initially, she did not spell out that her take was a personal one; the appearance of her blog on the Mozilla site led some, including Computerworld, to assume it was Mozilla's position as well.

"We support that, too," said Lie today when asked what Opera thought of Boriss' call to randomize the order of the browser choices. "Alphabetizing would just lead to opportunistic naming," he said. "We could call ourselves AAA Browser Maker and get the first spot."

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