Proposed Microsoft – EC Settlement

August 17th, 2009

A few weeks ago Microsoft and the EC announced they are discussing a settlement proposal. Asa Dotzler did an evaluation of the proposal in view of the principles we have previously, noting both items that appear promising and those that appear weak. In all things the implementation details — all the way to the most mind-numbing level of specificity — will have an immense impact on the proposal’s effectiveness, so we’ll have to wait and see what those details turn out to be. Here I’ll outline a couple of aspects where the proposal itself could use improvement.

The overall point that may get lost is that — even if everything in the currently proposed settlement is implemented in the most positive way — IE will still have a unique and uniquely privileged position on Windows installations.

  • It is always there, often with prominent placement in the user interface. Choosing another browser as a default doesn’t change this.  Contrast this with all other browsers who aren’t available without separate installation.
  • Choosing another browser as a “default” does NOT mean that the other browser takes the place of IE. For example, the IE logo (“shortcut”) still remains unchanged on the desktop. The shortcut / logo of the browser the user has selected does not replace this, it is added elsewhere. As a result, the familiar location remains IE, not the user’s choice.
  • IE appears to retain other privileged positions in the user interface, depending on the exact windows operating system configuration one uses. The most important of these is probably in the Taskbar of Windows 7, which contains IE prominently. Microsoft has described the Taskbar as the “beachfront property of the Windows OS” — it’s next to the Start menu and you see it even when your desktop is covered with all your program windows.

Nothing we’ve seen suggests these items will change when a person chooses to make a different browser his or her default. These shortcuts back to IE remain unless the user makes another browser his or her default and then figures out how to “turn off” IE.

A second way in which IE remains uniquely privileged is the difference between having a piece of software on one’s machine and needing to download, install and make something your default. This may seem irrelevant to those of us who live and breath Internet software, but it’s a significant barrier for a lot of people. IE doesn’t face this issue since it’s on Windows machines when people receive them. The ballot could do a better job of reducing this difference. Right now the ballot is about downloading software. It could be designed to help people get further in the process of downloading, installing, opening and making the new software the default. As proposed, we expect to see many people who want other browsers get lost in the process before they actually succeed in making an alternative browser their main browsing tool.

A third way in which IE retains a uniquely privileged position is the Windows update system. It makes sense to include IE updates in this system, even if a different browser is the default — it’s important not to have “dead” pieces of old software on one’s machine for security reasons. So we do not take the position that the Windows Update system should exclude IE. However, a few safeguards for protecting the prior choice of another browser should be in place. Most important, if IE presents itself to the user as part of an automatically triggered update process, it should close immediately after the update process completes. It should not use this Windows update process as an opportunity to ask to become the default browser.

Another way IE remains privileged is that it looks like potentially all Microsoft products other than Office 2007 may still include hard-coded links to IE. This appears to be true even for the upcoming release of Office. This is the kind of “remedy” that so often seem ludicrous in hindsight. It is also at odds with a person who has already chosen to use another browser.

Comments more specifically tied to the exact language of the documents can be found at Harvey Anderson’s blog.

The importance of the myriad of details makes it very difficult to predict how effective the proposed remedies will be, or the extent of any  side-effects. In any case, addressing the issues raised above would improve the proposed remedy significantly.

72 comments for “Proposed Microsoft – EC Settlement”

  1. 1

    Pingback from Firefox chiefs not happy with Windows 7 browser ballot screen - VISTA.BLORGE

    […] a recent blog post, Baker complained: Even if everything in the currently proposed settlement is implemented in the […]

  2. 2

    Ken Saunders said on August 22nd, 2009 at 12:42 am:

    So I guess that it’s only a handful of us who were actual strong and loyal Microsoft supporters at one time that remembers being abandoned and left to fend for ourselves by Microsoft when they allowed us to use, and provided us with a browser that they were (and still are) clearly aware of how vulnerable it was to attacks on OUR systems and private and professional data, that was riddled with bugs, and that was left for dead for years out of arrogance and complacency because there was no other competition and the World was using IE so why change it.

    Mozilla has been fighting for the overall health of the Internet and for consumers from the time when most of the ungrateful people spewing negative anti-Mozilla comments here were learning to ride a bike and now they’re just doing what they’ve always done (they’re just in the spotlight now) and people have a problem with it?
    It sickens me.

    Sorry Asa, I suppose that was a rant but come on, the majority of the comments here are just, I don’t know, I’m at a loss for words.
    Yes, that is actually possible but not too often so don’t get used to it.

  3. 3

    CR said on August 22nd, 2009 at 7:38 am:

    “I’m assuming that given your strong feelings about the need for OS’s to be browser agnostic, Mozilla is prepared to give up its “privileged position” on most Linux distributions in favor of a ballot box, and also lobby for Apple to do likewise with OS X? Or is a “privileged position” only unacceptable when it’s IE?”

    Complete and utter ignorance!

    For a start, the blog post is concerning *Windows* being browser agnostic!

    The issue is about a privileged position on a *monopoly* product, the market being an operating system for a personal computer and the monopoly product being Microsoft Windows. OSX and Linux are not monopoly products as they can easily be substituted by Windows, whereas the converse is not true. Bear in mind that a market is defined by a group of substitutable products sharing a general need and at a fundamental level Macintosh PC’s, Windows PC’s and *nix PC’s are substitutable products serving a general need (yes it may surprise you to learn that an Apple Mac is indeed a Personal Computer despite the aggressive brainwashing, sorry, advertising by Microsoft). Further to this, Mozilla does not coerce Linux distro’s into bundling it, it is a concious decision by the distro maintainers and not all Linux distros install it by default. So, even if you managed to prove that Mozilla was a monopoly (I wait with baited breath) there’s very little scope to argue that such position is used to abuse consumers.

    “Spoken like a true ABM imbecile.”

    I’m not the one doing the name calling! That said if you knew anything about economics and how it applies in the real world (which funnily enough I do, given my academic and professional career) then I imagine you would be quite embarrassed by that flippant insult.

  4. 4

    Holger said on August 22nd, 2009 at 2:08 pm:

    Mozilla could publish it’s own operating system – but would you also include the internet explorer als with choice of firefox? Mozilla firefox have millions of users yet, why do mozilla compain to microsoft?

  5. 5

    RPK said on August 23rd, 2009 at 5:00 am:

    There are a few negative comments on this blog post.
    One common element between the negative comments is the use of the word ‘whining’.
    Is it a coincidence that they all use the same word, ‘whining’, in their comment?

  6. 6

    Jani said on August 23rd, 2009 at 11:53 pm:

    This is utterly stupid complainment, and has changed many peoples impression of Mozilla Foundation to more negative.

    Forcing IE out of Windows is just taking away value from the customer. I want to have BOTH browsers in my Windows installation, and I’m feeling very frustrated that Mozilla people are being so arrogant and want to take away value from Windows license by removing software which other people around the world will anyway get for the same price.

    Windows is open platform, where you can be succesful with good product, and complaining that Microsoft has to remove parts away from it so your product can fill the gap is just plain arrogant.

  7. 7

    Pingback from Mozilla quiere más | MuyWindows

    […] ante la solución que podría ser adoptada. Mitchel Baker de la Mozilla Foundation ha expresado una serie de objeciones en su blog afirmando que aunque se implementara de la mejor manera esa pantalla de […]

  8. 8

    Pingback from Mozilla Displeased With Browser Ballot « Komplett Ireland

    […] is not universal. Specifically, the Mozilla Foundation’s chair, Mitchell Baker, has had some choice words to say about Microsoft’s proposed ballot, not least of which the fact […]

  9. 9

    Pingback from Mozilla chief: Microsoft ballot screen leaves IE 'uniquely privileged' | Active Xtream Technology

    […] as a ‘default’ does not mean that the other browser takes the place of IE,” Baker writes. “For example, the IE logo (’shortcut’) still remains unchanged on the desktop. […]

  10. 10

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    […] Baker escreveu que, com a proposta da Microsoft, perdeu-se o objetivo mais importante na disputa da Comissão […]

  11. 11

    Sailfish said on August 24th, 2009 at 11:42 am:

    The bigger problem for the Mozilla Foundation is the potential for dilution of Firefox market share, not the IE advantage. I suspect that most people will choose to download IE even if it won’t be the default browser just because it is the one that is provided by the OS manufacturer. However, with Microsoft now presenting an option of several other competing browsers it will tend to provide visibility and lend legitimacy to other lesser used browsers which will tend to distribute the shares more equally over time.

  12. 12

    lolipown said on August 24th, 2009 at 6:27 pm:


    To people that keep saying that this isn’t whining. Wake up. It is. The EU wanted a ballot screen, Microsoft gave them a ballot screen. Opera whined about Icons and now this?

    I’m starting to get ashamed I rooted for you guys. Firefox grew because of the product’s merits. That’s a fact. And frankly, a lot of your users will be much happier if you stick to that.

  13. 13

    Pingback from Jde Mozille o rovnost příležitostí nebo o kšeft?

    […] Mitchell Baker: „Choosing another browser as a “default” does NOT mean that the other browser takes the place of IE. For example, the IE logo (”shortcut”) still remains unchanged on the desktop. The shortcut / logo of the browser the user has selected does not replace this, it is added elsewhere. As a result, the familiar location remains IE, not the user’s choice.“ […]

  14. 14

    linchpin said on August 25th, 2009 at 3:54 pm:

    I might be called a Firefox fanboy. I always talk about how great Firefox is, how much better it is, recommend it to everyone and install it for people, etc. But this whole thing makes me feel ashamed! I don’t think you can get very popular this way, when even those who support you find your actions a bit pathetic.

    Firefox has achieved its popularity by being BETTER, in spite of the “unfair” advantage of its opponent IE.

    Windows is Microsoft’s OS. And they should be able to bundle it with their browser, their email program, their media player, etc. Apple bundles Safari with their OS. Linux bundles Firefox mostly, I think. Default applications DO have and advantage, but that doesn’t mean that default applications should be banned and the OS stripped of everything, to make it fair for all the software manufacturers there.

    Some monopolies are there because they were first and people are to lazy to search for alternatives. So you think you have the right to FORCE them to choose? I tell you, those lazy people will click on IE. Because that’s what they’ve been using before. They won’t care to read about the greatness of Firefox.

    A satisfied userbase is the key. We will promote Firefox better than any regulations. And certainly better than those that make us ashamed of supporting you so fervently.

  15. 15

    Kevin Chadwick said on August 26th, 2009 at 2:22 am:

    I’ve read most of these comments, and I’m ashamed of general opinion which doesn’t seem to recognise history. This has been on the cards since the demise of netscape, before firefox was even around or even mozilla, so to blame firefox for the EC trying to put mistakes of the past, right, which are causing huge problems all over the web, and extra costs and compromise for web developers is rediculous. The quick task icon is very important and so is the fact that you shouldn’t install an operating system unless you have no alternative while connected to the internet as it has not been updated yet and verified cds are more secure than your web connection. The comments about IE being more secure were based on social engineering, which is a limited scope of less important issues and therefore someone trying to make IE look better than it is.

    Most of the reasons people state why IE should be kept in it’s prominent position are due to abuse of this position, if it hadn’t been abused (avoiding standards) then the EC would be happy, and so the reasons you are aginst the EC are the same reasons why they are doing this. Is it fair that the leading browser Netscape was doomed to failure through no fault of it’s own (though I’m glad it’s now open source (became mozilla)).

    As another note of history this prominent position, whilst held onto well, was garnered from practices which I believe after reviewing lots of evidence, including admission and then more recent denial of some facts, would be illegal today (before software copyright law became effective to any degree) and IBMs suggested want for a cheaper alternative and then lack of control of M$, whilst ignoring real innovation and stable product. (lookup “Gary Kildall” the unrewarded brain behind the modern OS”). With hindsight, I feel IBM would have paid what kildall would have wanted for exclusivity and a higher standard of product, probably called OS/2 by kildall. Silver lining? Would Unix and open source be as brilliant as it is, in that case.

    I’m sure many of you may accuse me of being an open source fanatic, but I’m happy with my non M$ products, and still use code that runs on M$. I pride myself on fairness and only care about the general public and especially my own, so say what you like, but try to be correct at a fundamental level.

    Something I’m less sure of is that M$ were due to be split into three companies, one producing IE, but false promises? were made to the EC.

  16. 16

    Pingback from Opera Bytes v8 – A Brand New Icon and More

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  17. 17

    FRiDGE said on August 27th, 2009 at 12:32 am:

    As linchpin said, FireFox has acquired its userbase by being better than IE. I am a fan of neither of the browsers, but I must agree. However, I am surprised to see Mozilla (and Opera, surprisingly the only two browser companies that don’t have enough money to make their own OS to include their browser in) executives act like a bunch of teenage bozos. Come on, you have 48% of the market! You still want more?

    I believe Mozilla is using the fact that this cause is not an object of interest to mass media (read “not techblogs”), so most of the potential users do not care about the company’s behavior, unlike Opera.

    Personally, I don’t see any legitimate reasons why any other browser but IE should be shipped with Windows. Since Microsoft doesn’t prevent users from installing any other browser, there’s unlikely any competition to be affected. If you don’t like this, make your own operating system and make it dominant, nobody keeps you.

    This situation deeply saddens me.

    A happy Chrome user, FRiDGE.

  18. 18

    grecgssgfsx said on August 27th, 2009 at 1:47 pm:

    if a day, I make my own O/S and I do my web navigator…
    I will put firefox as the default navigator. And more I will destroy all files of my navigator, event if user want to use it. (even if it took only 20 mo in ram and not 2000 and if it is speeder, and if it dont do movie editing)
    because my navigator will be the evil !

  19. 19

    grecgssgfsx said on August 27th, 2009 at 1:50 pm:

    (btw : I use ff & I.E. … this could be a way of… reflexion… no ?)

  20. 20

    rumaitha said on August 30th, 2009 at 11:05 pm:

    thanks a lot for the mozilla team
    we are very happy for use firefox web brwoser
    thanks again

  21. 21

    Benjamin Chuang said on September 5th, 2009 at 11:01 pm:


    Let me start by freely admitting that I am posting here, in part, to balance the surprising volume of negative comments.

    I thought your article (and Asa’s related articles) were frank, detailed, and honest. That is rare in the computer industry, and should be encouraged.

    My responses to the negative comments would be too long and detailed for a single post. I would like to point out: browser-bundling is only the most recent issue of a history of many issues with Microsoft practices. I might be reading into the criticisms a bit, but I do not get the sense that the longer history and larger issues are considered fully by many of the critics.

  22. 22

    Pingback from Browser-Streit: Mozilla schimpft über Microsofts scheinheiligen “Ballot-Screen” | Basic Thinking Blog

    […] und einzigartig privilegierte Position” auf Windows-Systemen, heißt es in einem neuen Eintrag auf ihrem Blog. Baker hat gleich mehrere Punkte gefunden, die ihre These stützen […]

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