The Windows browser ballot: the winners and the losers

It's a year since the browser ballot came into being. We find out what effect it's had on the small browsers who needed it most

David Bayon
25 Feb 2011

On 1 March 2010, the EU Browser Choice ballot came into being. Rather than Microsoft being allowed to bundled Internet Explorer with Windows, it would offer all European users a choice of the "12 most widely used web browsers that run on Windows 7," either during the initial setup of a PC or later via Windows Update.

A bold plan, yet seven of the 12 argued that it didn't go far enough. It hid them out of sight, they said, while the big five rotated positions on the main table. The design of the ballot, with the leftovers a slider bar away from the home screen, didn't make it clear enough that there even were 12 browsers to choose from.

Microsoft replied that the screen was in compliance with the European Commission's decision and, one year on, the design remains unchanged. Is it a fair system? And has it made any difference?

The big five

The big five - or should that be big three? - almost aren't the issue here. As the graph above shows, despite a few minor wobbles around the time of the ballot's launch (marked by the dotted line), all five browsers continued largely on the trend lines they'd been following for months beforehand.

Any drop in Internet Explorer's share was swallowed by Google, blasting through the competition with its big-budget billboard, internet and TV campaign. That was happening long before March 2010, as was Safari's snail-like climb. Territories outside of Europe showed broadly similar results for the big five.

The other seven

We're far more interested in the outsiders, all seven of which we reviewed at the launch of the ballot. In the European browser statistics for February 2011 none had more than 0.05% of the market.

To find out how they thought the last year had gone, we contacted them all. The responses were mixed, to say the least.

"It doesn't make much difference for us at all since we are listed in the second page of the browser choice update screen," said a spokesman for FlashPeak SlimBrowser. "We are getting lower than 200 downloads per day from the Microsoft update channel."

"It's about 5% of our total downloads. We are probably the smallest among the top 12 browsers, so I believe it's a much smaller percentage for the other minor browsers."

FlashPeak may indeed be the smallest now, as both GreenBrowser and Sleipnir fell out of the top 12 altogether in a shake-up in August 2010. But the assumption that they weren't growing was challenged by a Sleipnir spokesman, who told us "the browser ballot has been good for Sleipnir."

"I'm afraid I can't show you the figures in detail," he explained, "but active users have approximately doubled [since the ballot] and downloads have quadrupled."

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