Who ratted out Microsoft on browser ballot absence?
At the time, Opera, which filed the 2007 complaint that triggered the Commission's original investigation, also chimed in, saying its downloads had doubled in the months after the screen returned to Windows 7 SP1.
By StatCounter's tracking, the disappearance of the ballot was concurrent with a six-fold jump in Opera's average monthly loss in Europe compared to the 15 months prior. In the seven months after the screen's restoration, however, Opera lost twice as much each month as it had during the ballot's absence.
Google's Chrome was seemingly unaffected, with average European monthly gains during the ballot's holiday of 0.84 of a percentage point, more than either the 0.82 of a percentage point average increase during the 15 months before the ballot vanished or the 0.60 of a percentage point average climb in the seven months since it was again imposed.
Of course, it's possible that the ups and downs of Europe's browser shares before, during and after the ballot's absence were not connected with the choice screen.
Clearly, the ballot's sabbatical did not change the fortunes of any browser, even IE's. StatCounter's numbers clearly show that the trends established before May 2011, when the ballot dematerialized, continued: IE, Firefox and Opera have all been losing share in Europe for years, while Chrome has been the beneficiary, picking up enough share there to push it into the No. 1 spot last summer.
U.S. metrics firm Net Applications, which also measures browser share -- albeit using a different methodology -- declined to provide granular data for Europe similar to what StatCounter offers publicly. But the two data points that Net Applications did share -- the standings in Jan. 2010 and Feb. 2013 -- showed the same general trends: IE, Firefox and Opera lost half or more of their share between the two dates, while Chrome's jumped nearly six-fold.
So who tipped off the EU? No one knows, and no one's talking.
All three browser rivals, however, had motive. Opera was the one that first complained about IE's ties to Windows, Mozilla has been the most vocal in opposing Microsoft's browser moves, and Google has been locked in a multi-front fight with Microsoft over everything from mobile patent licensing and enterprise applications to search and online email.
There may never come a Clue moment, when someone could claim it was "Colonel Mustard in the library with the knife."
Lande, however, had his suspicions. "It seems to me absolutely impossible that Google wouldn't have noticed," he said in a earlier interview. "Google hates Microsoft with a passion, and they're one of the most sophisticated companies on the planet. And they have lawyers in Brussels."
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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