Dave Woods - Freelance Web Design Warwickshire

Microsoft Agree to Browser Ballot

There’s been a lot of talk over the last few years regarding anti-trust charges against Microsoft due to them providing Internet Explorer as the default browser within their Windows operating system. However from March 2010 things are about to change.

The deal met by Microsoft means that during a Windows update from March of next year onwards for XP, Vista and Windows 7 machines, a ballot screen will be shown to users with a selection of 12 browsers to choose from.

The five most popular browsers, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari and Google Chrome, will appear in a random order. A further 7 browsers, AOL, Maxthon, K-Meleon, Flock, Avant, Sleipner and Slim will also be shown but in less prominent positions.

This list of browsers will be updated at least every six months depending how popular the software is and the ruling will remain in effect for at least the next five years. If Microsoft don’t abide by these terms then they could be fined up to 10% of yearly global turnover.

Opinion

Craig Buckler on Sitepoint isn’t sure about the idea:

Whilst I’m pleased users will be educated about alternatives, I’m not convinced the ballot screen will have a major impact on browser market share. A choice of 12 options will be confusing for many novices. Those making an uninformed or random choice will still have a 50:50 chance of opting for an IE-based browser!

Whilst I agree with Craig’s view that giving the majority of users this choice is likely to be overwhelming especially as the majority of the public don’t know what a web browser is, I do think it’s a step in the right direction albeit a long overdue change which may have come too late.

Sadly I don’t think much will change in terms of browser market share because of this move. I’d expect the majority of users to recognise the Internet Explorer icon that they’re so familiar with clicking on to open a web page and to stick with what they know on this ballot screen. I’ve tried introducing people to Firefox in the past and in a lot of cases it’s been a resounding failure as it’s unfamiliar due to people on the whole being negative to change so even if users are curious about the other options, I think this move is unlikely to swing a lot of people over to the better browsers.

Summary

People who understand web browsers are already in the know as to what makes a good web standard browser that is moving the web forward with HTML5 and CSS3 and are already using a Mozilla or Webkit browser. The majority of people though are still using Internet Explorer and this move is only going to create confusion for them as they won’t have any idea what different features are available within the 12 browsers on offer.

It’s a good idea to put pressure on Microsoft but the focus needs to be more heavily on them improving their own web browser and getting it up to the same standard as Safari and Firefox (or to adopt the Webkit engine) rather than this quick fix which in reality isn’t likely to have much impact at all.