Good riddance: Windows Browser Ballot finally expires

The Windows Browser Ballot – possibly the worst idea ever to emerge from the European Union – has finally been laid to rest. 

Good riddance: Windows Browser Ballot finally expires

The Browser Ballot was the European Commission’s belated puninshment for Microsoft choosing to bundle Internet Explorer with Windows at the turn of the century. Finally implemented in 2009, the ballot forced Windows users to choose from a randomised selection of a dozen different browsers – including Internet Explorer – when they first installed Windows or bought a new PC. 

Microsoft says it has served its punishment. “Microsoft provided the Browser Choice update in accordance with a decision issued by the European Commission in December 2009,” the company says on its support page. “The obligations imposed by that decision have expired and as a result the Browser Choice Update will no longer be delivered to new users.”

The ballot was designed to highlight the browser alternatives, but in reality it had little effect on the market, as analysis conducted by PC Pro a year after the introduction of the Browser Ballot showed. Instead, the pop-up screen caused confusion for users, who were often being asked to choose between several browser alternatives they had never even heard of. 

Whilst it’s undoubtedly true that Microsoft’s dominance of the browser market has diminished since the introduction of the Browser Ballot, it’s the launch and relentless promotion of Google’s Chrome browser that has largely been responsible for turning the tide.

Several sources – including StatCounter, W3Counter and Wikimedia – now claim Chrome is the world’s most used desktop browser, with a market share of between 38% and 48%. NetApplications still credits Internet Explorer with a 58% market share, with Chrome down on 19%. Chrome was released a year before the Browser Ballot was implemented, and was included as one of the 12 options, but it’s also been heavily promoted via Google’s search engine and via television advertising. 

The Browser Ballot has proved costly for Microsoft in other ways, though. Not only did it have to swallow the expense of implementing the system, it was hit with a €561m fine last year for a technical glitch that prevented the ballot from showing to users of Windows 7 SP1. Microsoft had offered to extend the ballot until 2016 to make up for the glitch, but that wasn’t enough to appease the Commission.  

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