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FAQ: Microsoft's browser 'ballot screen'

We answer your burning questions

Microsoft's decision last week to give Windows' users in Europe a so-called 'ballot screen' so they can decide which web browser they want to use, rather than being forced to use Internet Explorer, which previously came bundled with the OS, stunned tech fans across the world.

Although the move is a bid to settle the company's antitrust charges, which were brought by the EU in January this year, some likened it to waving the white flag. After all, a 'ballot screen' has been the commission's preferred strategy but Microsoft has regularly resisted, going so far as to dump Internet Explorer (IE) from its next operating system, Windows 7, in the hope that the sacrifice would appease regulators.

However, after what the commission called "extensive discussions", Microsoft caved yet again. But what does it mean for you? That's what we're here to answer.

Have your say: Vote in PC Advisor's MS Browser Ballot Screen Poll

What's Microsoft proposing exactly?

Microsoft has agreed to provide a ‘ballot screen' to EU customers that will offer links to downloads of rival browsers. EU antitrust regulators in the European Commission have been high on that idea for more than half a year now.

From the commission's point of view, Microsoft's bundling of Internet Explorer (IE) with Windows is an abuse of its dominant position in the operating system market.

Earlier this year, the commission said Microsoft "shields" IE from true competition, and wanted the company to make it easier for users - some of whom may not even realise that there are other browsers besides IE - to download alternatives like Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera and others.

How will it work?

If the commission accepts Microsoft's proposal, users who have IE as their default browser - that's the way virtually all new PCs are set - will see the ballot screen the first time they log on after the screen is distributed (more on that in a moment).

As envisioned by Microsoft, the ballot screen will list two links for each browser - one reading 'Install', the other 'Tell me more' - under a logo for each. The install link will take the user to "a vendor-managed distribution server, which, upon the user's confirmation, can directly download the installation package of the selected web browser", says Microsoft in its proposal.

The informational link will lead to the browser maker's site for more details about the application and other installation options.

How many browsers will be on the ballot?

Microsoft's proposal was unclear on that. At one point, it said five; at another, it said 10. But yesterday a source close to Microsoft said that the ballot screen would likely offer five browser options initially, and later expand the list to as many as 10.

The ballot will actually be a web page hosted by Microsoft, with the browsers in a horizontal line, with the placement left to right determined by usage share.

NEXT PAGE: Even more about the 'ballot screen'


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