EC Principle 3. Windows must enable people to choose other browsers

March 19th, 2009

Some examples of what this might mean in practice summarized below from the earlier post.

  • Option to download other browsers must be presented when a user is updating IE or Windows.
  • IE may not become the default browser except in specified legitimate circumstances.
  • Windows must ship with alternative browsers installed and offer users a choice.
  • Windows must ship with a mechanism for downloading and installing a user’s browser choice.
  • Windows may not include a browser (”untying” required).

Another way of thinking about this is : How much distribution advantage can Windows provide to IE? If one answers “as much as Microsoft wants with no limits” then this principle wouldn’t be implemented. If one answers “Windows can’t provide any distribution advantage to IE” then one would likely end up supporting a remedy that requires Windows to install a browser separately, based on a consumer’s decisions. If one answers “some” then one look to a of “must carry” remedy; a remedy that has been reported as of interest to the EC. Or one might look to some of the other options listed above.

One complication is the balance between encouraging competition and encouraging ease-of-use for the consumer. One might believe that a monopoly product like Windows should not provide any distribution advantage to IE, and yet simultaneously question whether an operating system without a web browser makes sense. Intellectually the principle might be right, but the remedy hard on consumers. I suspect many in the Mozilla world find ourselves looking at this dilemma.

Another complication is Microsoft’s long history and impact within the computer industry. Some of us have lived with Microsoft’s dominance for many cycles of the industry. To this group, the newer participants who believe Microsoft is a reasonable company that behaves within normal parameters are naive. To the new participants, the old-timers are weighted down by history and baggage and don’t see today clearly. It’s difficult to cross this divide.

One thing is clear. The ubiquity of Windows has meant the ubiquity of IE. As a result, millions of people believe that the blue “e” icon on their desktop IS the Internet. Changing that is a long, hard job. And until we do we magnify the difficulty of bringing competition to the browser space.

13 comments for “EC Principle 3. Windows must enable people to choose other browsers”

  1. 1

    Gijs said on March 19th, 2009 at 9:21 am:

    I think your note that “millions of people believe that the blue “e” icon on their desktop IS the Internet” is exactly what’s wrong in this situation. Imagine if people thought that a particular supermarket chain, like Tesco or 7-Eleven was the only way to obtain food. Wouldn’t that be considered a problem?

  2. 2

    Alan said on March 19th, 2009 at 10:30 am:

    I take it by ‘Option to download other browsers must be presented when a user is updating IE or Windows’, ‘updating’ is meant as feature-updating (or upgrading) and not security-updating?

  3. 3

    Eric said on March 19th, 2009 at 10:57 am:

    While I understand the issue, I’m not in favor of ANY of the alternatives you suggest as they only hamper user’s and make their experience inferior.

    1) Shipping an OS without a browser is a mistake
    2) Making a user choose a browser is also terrible. The last thing I want to do when I buy a new PC is have to make decisions regarding what app I want to use that do the exact same thing. I don’t care if I need to use X or Y if they both do the same thing. Stop asking me. I can’t believe you would even support making a user’s experience worse.
    3) While I wouldn’t mind my OSes (Windows, Mac and Linux) to ship multiple browsers, the last thing I want is for all 3 of my browsers to be taking up resources updating themselves when I only use one (yes, I use firefox).

    If IE is the most used browser due to a monopoly, and it defaults to MSN or live search, how do you explain Google being the monopoly in search? Answer: Because Google innovated and made a superior product/service. People were drawn towards google and type it in for searching regardless of the defaults. Same is happening with Firefox where users are downloading it (20%?) and using it despite having a perfectly capable browser already installed. Why? because Firefox is a great product with a great brand.

    Why not focus on making Firefox even better, grow the community, push the platform (xul runner) instead of wasting time figuring out how to make a user’s experience worse?

    Just because I have Safeway and Ford dealerships infront of my house shouldn’t require them to post up signs reminding me that others also make similar products.

    I would be pissed if when I booted my Macbook I got asked what browser I wanted to use. Screw you, keep my life short and simple. The fact that I later chose Firefox and was able to make it my default was the correct approach.

  4. 4

    adam g said on March 19th, 2009 at 3:58 pm:


    I’m commenting here following a very annoying firefox installation… here’s the thing, I hate Microsoft, lets pretend I’m the only one that does, and I like firefox/mozilla, so why oh why the same bone-headed agenda of forcing some 2bit issue upon us.

    I happen to reside in Israel, I also happen to speak 4 languages and would like to decided for myself which language I want for my UI.

    So I surfed over to and sure enough I get the hebrew version, I click on the ‘english’ link and proceed to downloading the browser -of course it’s the hebrew one, of course the actual filename cannot denote the language, of course the fact that I navigated away from the hebrew page is lost on the same decision-makers as to what browser language I may care for. And of course you can’t switch UI language once you install it. What’s up with that? What could be so difficult as disclosing -” english version available here!” or “This link is for Swahili UI in spite of how you’re probably a tourist in Kenya who indicated his webpage preference to be english”.

    My point being, you don’t have to be Microsoft to act like Big Brother.

  5. 5

    Eddy Nigg said on March 19th, 2009 at 5:43 pm:

    Adam, below the download image there is a link “Other Systems and Languages” for those which want to
    This should let you chose the version you prefer.

    Concerning the article I’d support a browser-less OS, however I can imagine that this could lead to different problems (like choosing a relatively unknown browser for which now download/install icon has been put in place). How should a browser be obtained if not through another browser? But besides that, a browser is “just” another application and users expect to receive certain apps with the OS…so they’d perhaps have to choose one during install of the OS? Or?
    As a result of it could we see IE versions for Linux and Mac in the future?

  6. 6

    mitchell said on March 19th, 2009 at 9:36 pm:


    I was following along with a fair amount of emphathy, until I got to the Big Brother comment. There are a lot of reasons why you could have a less than perfect experience. Maybe we made a mistake, maybe we’re trying to balance some set of problems that aren’t immediately clear, maybe there’s some technical issue that had to be resolved, maybe you found a bug, maybe you made a mistake.

    Any of those are worth figuring out; your experience certainly sounds frustrating. The Big Brother label doesn’t really help.

  7. 7

    mitchell said on March 19th, 2009 at 9:44 pm:


    we may be back to the monopoly piece again — should it make a difference in what is possible for Windows. Niether Ford nor Safeway is a monopoly , and you will routinely see competitive stores, as well as related stores, like drug stores.

    On the OS without a browser piece, there’s no question it is a less seamless experience than getting things just working. And it is also a real question whether there is any balance between protecting competition and immediate ease of use for the consumer.

    On the question of why Google came to be despite IE, there are probably a lot of economists with lots of reasons. I’ll just point out that search and ads caught hold and Google made its name even before there was search integrated into the browser. IE may default to MSN, but people already know Google, they’ve been going to long before the search box appeared. And the search box didn’t even appear in IE until IE7, after it had become a “must have” feature.

    This isn’t to say that Google doesn’ succeed by having a good product; they do. Google’s competiton is only a click away in most search boxes, it’s easy to choose the competitors, and yet Google continues to grow.

    As to us, we will keep focusing on promoting choice, innovation and participation into the Internet through products like Firefox.

  8. 8

    mitchell said on March 19th, 2009 at 9:49 pm:


    That’s a good question. It shows one of the issues, and why I started with principles: any remedy has a lot of detail to think through.

    I suppose one could make either choice. By including security updates one consistently reinforces that there are choices in browsers. But of course security updates can come frequently and the Internet’s overall health depends in part on how many people update regularly, and it might irritate people to see this update with the frequency of security updates. So your solution might make sense I’ve been warned over and over though that leaving ambiquity is not good — microsoft’s interpretation of an ambiguity often differs from that of others.

  9. 9

    Dwayne Bailey said on March 19th, 2009 at 10:21 pm:

    Some ideas of how this might be achievable:

    * Mandate that any OEM cannot be tied to supplying IE on a Windows box. Moving the effect down the chain might be the right solution. The user gets an OS with a browser, Microsoft has to unlock the browser from the OS.
    * A new computer must come supplied with CDs containing alternate browsers. The browser manufacturer needs to create the CD. Microsoft need to pay for the CD production. They cannot pass the costs on to the OEM or onto the consumer but must absorb the costs. Thus the computer comes with a web browser but the consumer is exposed and enabled to make a choice without having multiple browsers installed on the OS.
    * The start page of IE takes a user to a browser choice page. This to me sounds a bit wishy washy though.

    Anyway, I leave those ideas for others to poke holes in.

  10. 10

    foo said on March 20th, 2009 at 6:23 am:

    As far as I am concerned, this principle that ‘Windows must enable people to choose other browsers’ is met sufficiently already. If I want to use a different browser, it is very easy to install one. Most of the ideas mentioned just make things more difficult for the end users by asking them questions that they don’t need to be asked. I don’t think most normal users would know which browser is best for them without taking time to research it, and as they probably aren’t that interested so would rather just continue with what they are used to.

  11. 11

    TriniKrusader said on April 6th, 2009 at 5:11 am:

    Quote: “I don’t think most normal users would know which browser is best for them without taking time to research it, and as they probably aren’t that interested so would rather just continue with what they are used to.”

    And THAT is the heart of the problem. New users are settling for exactly what Microsoft gives them, despite the fact that it may not be the best choice. This isn’t a case in which a particular manufacturer bundles one company’s software with a PC; Microsoft Windows is THE biggest OS.

    Solving this problem is tricky, however. After all, internet browsing functionality is pretty much expected by a new user upon purchase of a new computer. Because of this, I think five is not going to work.
    Also, Microsoft is still a business and ~forcing~ it to either make IE available separately, or promote competitors’ free products in one way or another are both pretty painful choices. That shoots down options one, three and four UNLESS… the makers of those browsers are willing to offer Microsoft something in return. Nothing is impossible, but I don’t see that as being very likely. Additionally, option 1 can creates a sort of new market lock – what if some new, superior browser appeared out of nowhere? How many people would download it if Microsoft offered not one, but THREE browsers to them in Windows? We’re reincarnating the monopoly as a triopoly.

    I like solution two best. Perhaps Microsoft could bundle a weaker version of IE with their installation, and then redirect users to some kind of neutral browser downloader site a la “”, where any software developer could advertise his or her browser with a small blurb and get reviews from users. This does count as a ‘mechanism’ so I guess it works as a hybrid between two and four. There, Microsoft can host the full-fledged ‘bells and whistles’ IE to compete naturally with Mozilla, Opera and any other up-and-coming browser program.

  12. 12

    tsahi said on April 10th, 2009 at 10:32 am:

    I agree with Dwayne Bailey, that OEMs should be allowed to replace the references to IE, either on the desktop or the Start menu, with references to a different browser. In fact, I believe this is the case after some of the anti trust trials against MS, isn’t it? This will satisfy point #3 in your post.
    Your other suggestions I believe, will confuse most users, or complicate their lives beyond reasonable level. If someone s updating IE, why should that be tied to some other browser? I update IE regularly, just is my Firefox is updating regularly, and I know I’ll be annoyed if I have to go through another dialog if I update IE or Windows.
    Until some other browser is installed, either by the user or by an OEM, some browser has to be the default one, and if IE is the only one installed, then it will have to be it.
    I doubt if you can force a software vendor to give its users the competing software, unless some antitrust law allows this.
    Windows already has a mechanism to install the user’s browser of choice – it’s called IE.
    Finally, any modern operating system must include a browser. Back in ’94, when I was using OS/2 Warp (ah, those were the days…) it already came with a minimalistic browser, which I used for downloading Netscape 2.0.
    So perhaps an operating system, any operating system, should be shipped with a browser with minimum capabilities, as TriniKrusader also suggested.

  13. 13

    Asa Dotzler said on April 11th, 2009 at 11:19 am:

    TriniKrusader said, “Also, Microsoft is still a business and ~forcing~ it to either make IE available separately, or promote competitors’ free products in one way or another are both pretty painful choices. That shoots down options one, three and four UNLESS… the makers of those browsers are willing to offer Microsoft something in return.”

    How about an offer to not be banned from doing business in the EU or being fined billions of dollars? The EU is the one with the authority and the “offer” and they wield quite a bit of power should they choose to employ it.

    Browser vendors like Mozilla are trying to think this through so that their “offer” to Microsoft actually accomplishes what they intend it to.

    – A

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