EC: Principle 1: Respecting Previous Choice

February 27th, 2009

In the last post I listed potential principles and noted I’d try to say a bit more about each. Here’s the first principle.

Principle: Microsoft must not undermine consumer selection of non-Microsoft browsers.

Rationale: Once a person has chosen Firefox or Opera or another browser this choice should be respected. Neither Windows nor IE should use the presence of IE to encourage or promote a return to IE, or to automatically open a different web browser than that which the user has selected. Otherwise, the monopoly presence of Windows on 90+% of the world’s personal computers means that people are forced to choose alternative products over and over again.

Some Specifics:

  • Use of IE for operating system purposes cannot bleed into web browsing
  • IE must close after OS purposes complete
  • IE may not ask to become the default browser or make itself the default browser except in specified legitimate circumstances, like perhaps when a person downloads IE separately from Windows or from a Windows update

It will be useful to identify the ways in which Microsoft products — including Office, as suggesting in a previous comment — lead people to IE, or open IE as the browser even when another browser has been selected as the default. Feel free to add them here or let me know through other channels.

17 comments for “EC: Principle 1: Respecting Previous Choice”

  1. 1

    Ken Saunders said on February 27th, 2009 at 8:58 pm:

    Once a person has chosen Firefox…this choice should be respected.

    Yes, otherwise it’s like buying a Corvette and going out to your driveway to see that it has been replaced by a Yugo.

  2. 2

    Dwayne Bailey said on February 27th, 2009 at 10:38 pm:

    It might be interesting to ask the WINE people. They have had to build a lot of base infrastructure for webbrowsers so that they can fake IE during installs, etc. There might not be overlap but they might be a more robust source of the depth to which IE keeps its presence and pushes users back.

  3. 3

    Kim Sullivan said on February 28th, 2009 at 4:59 am:

    Some third party applications open IE, despite the fact that most other applications open Firefox (e.g. the Avira Antivirus Personal edition nag screen). Apparently, it is difficult for some third parties to properly open the default webbrowser, this has to be remedied (maybe up to the point that the IE executable points to the system default browser?).

    Another (much more severe) issue is the embedded browser control that IE provides (this may in fact be the reason that Avira opens IE – the content of the nag screen is maybe rendered via the IE control, and clicking on a “buy” link only opens the link in the same browser). This means that other browser vendors should be able to implement a drop-in replacement for the browser control, and Microsoft should provide hooks and documentation for this to be possible.

    Unfortunately, there may be applications that explicitly depend on the fact that the system browser control is IE (I have no idea if and how applications are able to communicate with the browser in the control), so it might actually not be technically possible. As far as I know, Maxthon actually takes the browsing control and adds a whole browser around it. If it would be possible to switch the browser behind the control, would Maxthon simply use gecko?

  4. 4

    mitchell said on February 28th, 2009 at 8:44 am:

    Very helpful — we’ll look into these.

  5. 5

    Janet S. Tiger said on February 28th, 2009 at 11:34 am:

    I find that Mozilla is less and less able to handle important sites I use – is one big example.

    To revise my website – and see it the way I will see it on IE, I need to work on IE – which is awful! (frustrating, annoying, time-consuming, etc.)

    But if I work only on Mozilla, my site looks awful on IE. It’s something you at Mozilla should look at very carefully.

    Also, I find that when a pdf file is on Mozilla, it will not open. I have to switch to IE (again, frustrating and time-wasting) to get the pdf to open or download. Can you fix that, please?

  6. 6

    Asa Dotzler said on February 28th, 2009 at 2:07 pm:

    As fr the principle, I absolutely agree that this is paramount. Nothing else that happens will matter if Microsoft is still able to use its Windows monopoly to undo user choice.

    Listing all of the specific interactions during which IE might be launched in violation of the user’s chosen default is a good first step here. I’m glad you asked for that input.

    Listing the sub-set of those interactions where IE prompts the user to recover default browser status, would be the logical next step. (unless the two are the same set, in which case this moot.)

    Here’s my first pass at a couple of interactions during which IE would be launched rather than the user’s default browser choice. The list is in the order I believe is most harmful to least harmful. I’ll add more to this thread as I investigate further.

    1. Users are so accustomed to clicking the “blue e” on the desktop that even after installing an alternative and making ti the default, they will sometimes click the “blue e” simply out of habit. This is partially but not fully remedied when a user installs a new browser and makes it the default. When the user sets a new default browser the Start menu changes to display the new browser instead of (replacing) the “blue e”. Unfortunately the desktop does not do the same thing. The “blue e” retains it’s prominent and familiar location on the desktop while the new browser launcher is pushed to the first available space on the desktop which might be far less prominent depending on how crowded the is that user’s desktop.

    So, you have a situation where Microsoft, because it defines the initial state of the Windows interface, places IE in the most prominent position available on the desktop and the Start menu and then when a user adopts a new default browser, IE still retains that prominent desktop position. The Start menu “fix” came as a result of the US anti-trust action but it does not go far enough because it ignores the desktop icon which is an even more prominent and more used launcher for IE.

    2. Users are often presented with links in programs that cannot load web pages. Many of those programs dispatch those links to Windows to be opened by the default web browser. Some programs, however, explicitly dispatch those links to I.E. So, rather than the program saying “Windows, please open this link in the user’s preferred browser” the program says “Windows, please open I.E. and load this link.”

    This may be done because the program authors explicitly wants the user to view this content in I.E. or because the authors didn’t understand the difference. It would be very interesting to learn if any of the popular programs that have this behavior are doing it at the request or suggestion of Microsoft.

  7. 7

    Ken Saunders said on February 28th, 2009 at 11:44 pm:

    Janet S. Tiger, this is not the proper venue for the issues that you mention but I will say that the problems that you are facing with your web site are mainly due to the way your site’s coding has been written and it’s not Mozilla’s fault at all.

    Please take the time to visit the W3C ( to learn about Web standards and coding guidelines.
    They also offer some really great tutorials on many different coding languages as does

    It is a hassle having to slave over getting a site to render well in IE because it does not follow or adhere to Web standards as Mozilla’s products do so you’re complaint should actually be directed at Microsoft.

    As for your PDF issue, please visit the official Firefox support site as your problem is more specific to you than the other 200 million Firefox users worldwide.

    Good luck.

  8. 8

    bugmenot said on March 1st, 2009 at 2:21 am:

    Kim Sullivan Said:
    > If it would be possible to switch the browser behind the control, would Maxthon simply use gecko?

    Classic Maxthon (1.x) already offers the choice between Trident and Gecko,
    as do Sleipnir, Lunascape (+webkit), Scope, Networker, and some other ones.

  9. 9

    Kim Sullivan said on March 1st, 2009 at 4:08 am:

    That’s great to hear, but this has been a conscious effort by the browser developers. I’m more concerned about the applications that use the windows native WebBrowser control (which is more or less supplied by the OS, ) to implement simple webbrowsing. AFAIK Windows doesn’t provide a simple way for browser vendors to hook into this control, and any application that uses it will always use IE.

  10. 10

    Nathan Lineback said on March 2nd, 2009 at 2:03 pm:

    This is something I have been trying to get people to understand and do since back when the embeddable IE control first came out. (But no one listens to me :P)

    In my opinion there are very few circumstances where an application can really justify embedding a web browser. Occasionally an “HTML Widget” for local content can be useful, but if the application must view or interact with pages on the internet it should *always* launch the user’s default web browser (and, i might add, in a regular window so the user has their familiar tool bars and menus).

    If applications (from Microsoft and others) didn’t make such wild use of embedding IE then it would do away with one of their major excuses for forbidding IE from be uninstalled from Windows. And then the Wine/ReactOS folks wouldn’t have to re-implment Microsoft’s web browser just to get desktop applications to run.

    I have actually been meaning for ages to go through each nook and cranny of Windows XP or Vista (or perhaps Windows 7 now) to see where it doesn’t respect the users settings.

    An example of the sort of thing you are asking for: right now I have to deal with a program called Oracle Reports Builder that only wants to launch IE for previewing. It has its own proprietary way of selecting which browser to use, but it doesn’t know about Firefox (Only IE and Netscape). Ironically it only uses it to preview generated PDFs so I would rather it just launched Acrobat reader anyway.

  11. 11

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  13. 13

    Lennie said on March 4th, 2009 at 3:49 pm:

    In other news:

  14. 14

    Asa Dotzler said on March 6th, 2009 at 9:22 am:

    Here’s another case where user choice isn’t fully respected.

    Users of multi-user Windows XP systems are forced intl a bad situation because the default internet browser is set as a system setting that applies to all all user accounts. If one user decided to change the default internet browser it would affect all user accounts of the Windows XP system.

    So, an OS that is mulit-account cannot set the default browser differently. This can lead to a tug of war for default browser status when different users are logged in.

  15. 15

    Ken Saunders said on March 8th, 2009 at 11:36 am:

    I’m not quite sure if I should post this publicly but I find it to be absolutely hilarious. receives a good amount of requests for help with Firefox despite the very obvious notices stating that the site does not provide Firefox help and support.
    Despite 5 changes to the contact page, I had to finally be a little more blunt (but try and do so without being offensive) because I was getting swamped with support requests and I couldn’t keep up with them on my own plus some of the emails were literally verbally abusive and sometimes very vulgar.

    The main reason for Access Firefox getting so many support requests is that the contact page is #1 in Google’s search results for contact firefox.

    With all of that being said, here is an email that I/the site received yesterday.

    Comments: i installed firefox and now my internet explorer doesnt work..i did not want it to be my primary server,as i wanted to atleast get used to it b4 i decided to do that,,you product took over my computer and im very pissed off about this,i am not very computer illiterate..i want step by step guide of getting my computer back and dont say system restore adding firefox took my last bit of space and didnt leave restore point,,,i remember once b4 this happened but never did the damage it has now,also to tell me to go to internet and go to addons,,i dont get that option…i cannot believ well i can believe that ppl would make a product that just takes over your computer..

    Isn’t that the funniest thing that you’ve read this week?

    I did reply thoroughly and provided detailed instructions on how to remove Firefox as her default browser, how to return IE to being the default again and for the future, explained that “After installing and running Firefox for the first time, there is always a notice that asks if you would like to set Firefox as your default browser and you then have the option of not having Firefox set as your default browser”
    “…Mozilla Firefox will never automatically set itself as your default web browser without your permission. You cannot even begin to use Firefox until you ok or deny its request to become your default web browser.”
    I also provided proper help and support options, told her that learning how to use Firefox isn’t any more difficult than learning any other new application, be patient, seek help, do research, I love Firefox etc etc (none of that is verbatim).

    I just thought that this email was quite comical (not necessarily her frustrations) and others might appreciate a good laugh.

    Gee, wouldn’t it be great to be able to get free and direct troubleshooting help and support from Microsoft for IE and get a reply in under one day? Can I write to someone to complain about IE knocking off my choice for a web browser every chance that it gets?

    Huh, a billion dollar corporation vs a dude wearing a robe sitting in his apartment helping out others one person at a time.
    That’s the Mozilla way.
    Well, not the robe wearing part.

  16. 16

    Steve K said on March 11th, 2009 at 10:18 am:

    It seems this happens quite often, even as I have experienced it on my own desktop computer, and even my computer at work.

    At home, I have faithfully and loyally set my default browser to FireFox and my default e-mail client to ThunderBird. On occasion I’ll find a link in my software that launches something different than my defaults. My anti-virus and a couple of my gaming links force IE to open instead of my default (FF). Most of my other programs stick to my default.

    At work, we have a choice between IE and FF but our system default is IE since we run some custom programs that require it as default.

    I read the link in Lennie’s reply about IE being removed from future windows installations or bundling other browser software with windows. Personally, I would like to see it as a installation choice. Take the new Windows7 for instance. How hard would it be to add one window that asks “Which internet browsers would you like to install” and choose from a list including IE, FF, Opera, etc. then another window asking which one to set as system default browser. The same should be done with e-mail clients (windows live mail, thunderbird, outlook, etc) and office packages (Open Office, Microsoft Office, Corel Word Perfect, etc.).

    In short, I agree with everyone else on this community where a default system browser should be a respected choice by software developers and should not force a specific browser upon a user against a user’s will.

    @Ken Saunders – I’ve had e-mails about that also. I volunteer as a system administrator in a local gaming community and there have been times where our software was accused of being a virus. I laughed so hard when I got an e-mail about that, that I fell out of my chair, unable to breathe.

    Stephen D King
    Engineering Design Assistant
    Heatron Inc.

  17. 17

    Nishanth Shanmugham said on March 13th, 2009 at 4:01 am:

    It’s sad to say this. On Windows XP, I use your email client, Thunderbird but not your web browser, Firefox. My default web browser is Safari. But Thunderbird opens up Firefox when I click on a link. And as a matter of fact, Windows Live Mail doesn’t do this.

    Oh Baker, I’m pissed off by this post.

    I am sorry to say this. Maybe it’s a technical GLITCH. Please have it fixed.

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