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Posts Tagged with “choice”

Microsoft – EC Formal Proposal

October 7th, 2009

Today the European Commission announced a formal settlement proposal in the Microsoft tying investigation. The ultimate effectiveness of this remedy depends in part on the implementation specifics and can only be determined over time. Once the EC and Microsoft have agreed to a final settlement, Mozilla hopes to work closely with Microsoft and the EC to implement the settlement in a way that creates the best user experience possible in the ballot setting.

Mozilla will continue our work to help internet users across Europe understand the choices available to them and why it is important to make an informed decision about the software one uses to access the web.

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.

Browser Ballot for Windows in Europe

July 24th, 2009

Microsoft and the European Commission have announced they are discussing a proposal for Microsoft to include a browser ballet in European versions of the Windows operating system. The ballot approach has many positive possibilities. However, the precise implementation will determine if the ballot approach is likely to be a useful remedy. For example:

  • Does the ballot apply to the copies of Windows that go through the “OEM channel” (approximately 95%) and are installed by the OEMS on computers when people buy them?
  • Will Microsoft’s update service present this ballot choice to people who already have PCs ?
  • Microsoft’s statement says their proposal will allow people to  “easily install competing browsers from the Web.” It’s not clear yet if the user can set another browser as the default browser — that is, the browser that opens up when one selects a URL. If the ballot screen doesn’t allow one to make something other than IE the default then the so-called “remedy” looks pretty flimsy.
  • Can Microsoft impose terms and requirements on products or providers listed in the ballot?

The answers to these types of questions will have a huge impact on the number of consumers who actually see a choice.

It is also critical that Microsoft respect the choice of people once they have chosen other browsers, and that neither Windows nor IE nor the Windows update system are used as tools to undo the choice of another browser. We would like to see a commitment to respecting these choices as well.

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.

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.

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