Microsoft Settlement with EU Unlikely to Shift Browser Battle

The European Union is dropping its antitrust case against Microsoft in the wake of an agreement between Microsoft and European antitrust litigators to provide European users with more choice. Beginning in 2010, and extending over the next five years, Microsoft will allow European users to select the Web browser they use with Microsoft Windows using a ballot screen.

EU browser ballot agreement with Microsoft is a hollow victory unlikely to shift the browser landscape.
Beginning in March of 2010, Microsoft will push out an update to existing users of Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 in Europe with a choice screen that will allow them to choose from twelve different Web browser options. New installations of the Windows operating systems will also receive the "Choice Screen Update" through 2015.

At a press conference in Brussels announcing the settlement, European competition commissioner Neelie Kroes hailed the agreement. "Now, for the first time in over a decade, Internet users in Europe will have an effective and unbiased choice between Microsoft's Internet Explorer and competing Web browsers."

Choice is putting it mildly. Unbiased is a difficult goal to attain. The browser ballot will include twelve different Web browser options. Yes. Twelve.

Ultimately, the browser landscape is unlikely to change significantly--if at all, though. The settlement is a win for the European Commission on principle, and it's a victory of sorts for alternative browsers, but the majority of consumers weren't clamoring for browser choice.

From a business perspective, Internet Explorer provides a platform that can be configured and maintained using Group Policy and Active Directory. In terms of being able to manage and support the Web browser across a network domain, Internet Explorer is still the leader of the pack for businesses of all sizes.

The use of Internet Explorer by businesses has a trickle-down effect on consumer browser choice as well. Regardless of any deficiencies in Internet Explorer--real or perceived--it is the browser most users rely on at work. When they go home, users want to have a similar Web browsing experience to the one they are already familiar with, using the Web browser they are most comfortable using.

Users who are technically savvy enough to know, or care, about the alternative browsers have already installed them. The remainder of users just want something that allows them to see Web pages on their computer. There are pros and cons to all of the browsers, and ultimately users will fall back on what is most familiar.

I expect we'll see grandiose announcements of the statistics once the browser balloting begins. Those statistics will show a dramatic rise in users selecting Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, and the other seven browsers nobody has heard of, over Microsoft's Internet Explorer. The statistics will be applauded as a victory for alternative browsers, but will be more a reflection of curiosity than anything.

After the dust settles, and the novelty wears off, the market share of browsers actually used on a day-to-day basis will change little.

Tony Bradley tweets as @PCSecurityNews, and can be contacted at his Facebook page.

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