EuroNannyism and the EU-Microsoft Browser Case

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 3/08/2010 09:03:00 PM
I've found that one of the best ways sometimes esoteric concepts about faraway institutions we keep talking about in politics and international relations can be enlivened is to explain how they impact our daily lives. Today, I bring you the case of the EU pressuring Microsoft to not make its Explorer browser the default choice for the Windows operating system. Let me disclose here that I generally like Windows operating systems and would not pay for the premium Apple systems command that basically use the same hardware. I am genuinely puzzled about why so many complained about Vista as I have generally been pleased with it and its successor, Windows 7.

Anyway, the European Commission (EC) went after Microsoft sometime ago over the inclusion of its Explorer browser with its operating system, suggesting that this was somehow an abuse of monopoly power via bundling. Although MS operating systems are my first choice, let's just say I've grown accustomed to Mozilla Firefox for quite some time now and prefer it over IE8. That said, I think the EC went overboard with its efforts to make IE8 just as option among several other browsers starting with Windows 7. Here is what the Redmond giant's emissaries had to say about the matter before 7's launch:
We’re committed to making Windows 7 available in Europe at the same time that it launches in the rest of the world, but we also must comply with European competition law as we launch the product. Given the pending legal proceeding, we’ve decided that instead of including Internet Explorer in Windows 7 in Europe, we will offer it separately and on an easy-to-install basis to both computer manufacturers and users. This means that computer manufacturers and users will be free to install Internet Explorer on Windows 7, or not, as they prefer. Of course, they will also be free, as they are today, to install other Web browsers...

Windows 7 will be offered in Europe in all of the versions that will be available here in the United States, both 32- and 64-bit, with an “E” at the end of the product name (for instance, Windows 7 Home Premium E). The E versions of Windows 7 will ship at the same time as Windows 7 ships in the rest of the world, and they will be available in 23 European languages.

What does this mean for European consumers? The E versions of Windows 7 will include all the features and functionality of Windows 7 in the rest of the world, other than browsing with Internet Explorer. Computer manufacturers will be able to add any browser they want to their Windows 7 machines, including Internet Explorer, so European consumers who purchase new PCs will be able to access the Internet without any problem. Consumers will also be able to add any Web browser to their PCs, to supplement or replace the browsers preinstalled by their computer manufacturer.
If you're really interested in this stuff, you can also read the EC's explanation of its ruling.

The funny thing is, I've now been involved with these EC shenanigans even if my operating system is the older Vista. Being finicky about what goes into my computer, I actually look what the endless updates software are about. Not that my computing experience has changed one iota from all these updates, but still. Lo and behold, it appears that Microsoft has been forced to apply "choice" retroactively to us Vista users as well. Here is the notice in updates about a "Microsoft Browser Choice Screen" [click for a larger image here and those that follow]:

After installing this thingamajig and rebooting the computer, an icon then emerges for "Browser Choice" on the desktop. Dang, maybe even free-market fanatics of the Friedmanite persuasion would be proud of this EuroNannyism! But wait, it gets even better. Clicking on the icon or rebooting for the first time since applying the browser choice update brings us to a menu in which some of the wares of those who bellyached about Microsoft's dominance of the browser market due to an unfair leg up by Explorer's inclusion in Windows now have their day. Among the mainline choices are those which should be familiar to all. Actually, being something of a browser fanatic who times how long the IPE Zone loads among other things, I already have all of these (free) products:

Scroll to the right and there are even more choices. While I've heard of Flock and FlashPeak SlimBrowser in passing, Microsoft does me several times better by digging up fairly obscure alternatives. Supposedly, MS now presents a choice among the twelve most widely used browsers in Europe including these ones I'd never heard of before:

So while I am generally a fan of European integration, telling Microsoft to do this strikes me as overkill and, instead of providing users like me with more "choice," is more of an annoyance than anything else. It will be fascinating to see whether the EC's ruling will affect Microsoft Explorer's market share going forward. About this same time last year, Firefox already had a third of the share in the European market, so maybe there isn't much inroads to be made but we'll just have to wait for what happens from this moment on.

UPDATE: ZD Net reports that browser choice ain't coming to Asia.