Posted by Dave Heiner
Vice President and Deputy General Counsel
A week ago the European Commission said it welcomed our proposal to provide Windows users a “consumer ballot screen” to select the Web browser of their choice to surf the Internet. We believe this approach addresses the Commission’s previously stated competition law concerns regarding our inclusion of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) browser in Windows.
I’d like to use this post to explain in more detail how the consumer ballot screen would work. But first I’d like to update you on our Windows 7 launch plans for Europe, which I blogged about on June 11.
As I explained at the time, we are committed to making Windows 7 available in Europe at the same time it is available to consumers worldwide on October 22.
To meet that goal, and in light of the Commission’s pending legal inquiry of our inclusion of IE in Windows, we decided last month that we would ship a unique version of Windows 7 in Europe—which we dubbed Windows 7 “E”—that would not include a Web browser. Instead, we decided to offer IE separately and on an easy-to-install basis to both computer manufacturers and users who wanted the Microsoft browser.
We have now decided to alter that launch plan. In the wake of last week’s developments, as well as continuing feedback on Windows 7 E that we have received from computer manufacturers and other business partners, I’m pleased to report that we will ship the same version of Windows 7 in Europe in October that we will ship in the rest of the world.
If the Commission accepts our recent proposal, we would then fully implement all of its terms. As proposed, we would use the Internet to deliver a ballot screen update to customers who purchase Windows 7 in the European Economic Area, either as part of a PC or as a retail upgrade product.
One reason we decided not to ship Windows 7 E is concerns raised by computer manufacturers and partners. Several worried about the complexity of changing the version of Windows that we ship in Europe if our ballot screen proposal is ultimately accepted by the Commission and we stop selling Windows 7 E. Computer manufacturers and our partners also warned that introducing Windows 7 E, only to later replace it with a version of Windows 7 that includes IE, could confuse consumers about what version of Windows to buy with their PCs.
The Commission also previously expressed concerns about Windows 7 E. In a statement the day after I outlined our plans for Windows 7 E, the Commission clarified that it believes “consumers should be offered a choice of browser, not that Windows should be supplied without a browser at all.”
We’re now confident that shipping Windows 7 with IE in Europe—as we will in the rest of the world—is the right thing to do for our partners and for our customers. We also feel encouraged in making this decision by the positive reaction from so many quarters to our ballot screen proposal last week.
However, we recognize that there are still several steps ahead in the Commission’s review of our proposal and that we are not done. We will fully engage in that process with the hope that our proposal will be accepted. We’ve been open both with the Commission and with our customers and partners that if the ballot screen proposal is not accepted for some reason, then we will have to consider alternative paths, including the reintroduction of a Windows 7 E version in Europe.
While this requires significant change on our part, we believe this is the right approach for the company, and we are grateful to the Commission for the dedication and professionalism their officials brought to bear in discussing this with us.
With that said, here is more information on how the consumer ballot screen would work. It comes into play for PCs that are shipped into Europe with IE set as the default browser. (Computer manufacturers are free to install any browser and set any browser to be the default when building Windows-based PCs.)
Shortly after new Windows PCs are set up by the user, Microsoft will update them over the Internet with a consumer ballot software program. If IE is the default browser, the user will be presented with a list of other leading browsers and invited to select one or more for installation. Technically, this consumer ballot screen will be presented as a Web page that can be updated over time as new browsers become available.
Here is how it would look:
The ballot screen would make it obvious to Windows users that they have a variety of choices when it comes to Web browsing software. Users could return to this page anytime to install the latest browsers or learn more about them. (The browser links will connect users directly to the appropriate Web servers to download the various browsers.)
As part of the installation process for a new browser, users can choose whether to make the new browser their default browser. Users also can take advantage of configuration options built into Windows to change their default browser selection and turn access to IE, or other browsers, on or off.
This consumer ballot screen may result in some users switching from IE to other browsers. It is unlikely to lead to any users switching to IE, since the screen will not be presented to Windows users whose default is Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera or any other browser.
The consumer ballot screen is designed for existing Windows PCs too, not just new ones. If our proposal is accepted by the Commission, we will update Windows XP and Windows Vista machines throughout Europe with the consumer ballot screen. Once installed, the consumer ballot screen will work as described above—users with IE set as their default will be presented with the browser choices, others won’t.
As you might imagine, it was not easy for Microsoft to accept the idea that we would essentially promote directly competing software from within our flagship product, Windows. Still, we believe that this approach is better for all concerned, including computer manufacturers and browser vendors—and most of all consumers—than an approach focused on removing Internet Explorer from Windows. This consumer ballot approach will make it easy for users to choose any browser. At the same time, it will preserve the benefits for consumers and software developers of an integrated solution for Web browsing. In this way the benefits of both integrated and standalone solutions are preserved. It will also streamline computer manufacturing and deployment by large enterprises because Windows will be the same in Europe as in the rest of the world.
The Commission indicated last Friday that it welcomed Microsoft’s formal proposal of the consumer ballot approach, as well as the obligations we are prepared to assume to promote interoperability. We hope that the Commission will accept our proposals as the basis for a resolution of their competition law concerns. We will remain in close contact with the Commission, and we will implement our proposals fully as soon as possible if and when they are officially approved.