Opera downloads triple after browser ballot screen debut

The numbers prove the ballot idea is working, says Opera exec

Opera Software today said that it has seen a three-fold increase in downloads of its browser since Microsoft started pushing a ballot screen to European who run Windows.

"It varies from country to country, but yes, in several major countries, Opera downloads have tripled since the ballot screen appeared," said Rolf Assev, the chief strategy officer for the Norwegian browser maker. Opera specifically cited surges in downloads in Belgium, France, Spain, Poland and the U.K.

Assev said the swell of downloads was above and beyond the increase caused by the final release of Opera 10.5 for Windows yesterday. "We compared the downloads against previous launches, such as Opera 10.0, 10.10 and 9.5, and the tripling is above what we would normally expect with a new version launch," he said.

Microsoft began serving up the ballot via Windows Update on Monday. The ballot was mandated by an agreement Microsoft reached last year with European Union antitrust regulators, nearly two years after Opera filed a formal complaint that accused its rival of stifling competition by bundling Internet Explorer (IE) with Windows.

The ballot appears on Windows PCs where Internet Explorer (IE) is set as the default, and lets users download and install major and minor browsers from competitors including Apple , Google , Mozilla, Opera and others.

Based on the preliminary results, Assev agreed that the ballot is doing what it was designed to do. "Absolutely, because people are now more aware of the choices they have," he said. "We are getting a lot of [download] traffic coming from the ballot screen."

Antitrust regulators in Brussels also voiced their satisfaction over the ballot rollout. "Giving consumers the possibility to switch or try a browser other than that included in Windows will bring more competition and innovation in this important area to the benefit of European internet users," Joaquin Almunia, the head of the EU's competition commission, said in a statement Tuesday.

Other browser makers, including Google and Mozilla, did not respond to questions about whether they have seen similar download increases in Europe.

Not everyone is happy with the ballot, however. Yesterday, a lobbying group whose members include some of Microsoft's fiercest rivals -- IBM and Oracle , to name just two -- urged antitrust officials worldwide to pressure Microsoft into offering a browser ballot screen to everyone, not just to Europeans. Opera is also a member of the group, the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS).

On Monday, an IBM software architect criticized the ballot's shuffling , saying that his tests showed Google's Chrome was the most likely to get the preferred spots. According to the agreement Microsoft struck with EU officials, the ballot screen is to scramble the order of the top five browsers, a change from an earlier Microsoft idea that browser order would be alphabetical by maker.

Assev, who wasn't aware of the randomization flaw, said Opera would look into the claims.


Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com .

Read more about internet applications in Computerworld's Internet Applications Knowledge Center.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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