First, the European Union decided that Microsoft was unfairly monopolizing the browser market by bundling Internet Explorer in software packages. As a result E.U. users are now offered a ballot that allow them to select alternatives. And it’s working: IE is losing chunks of marketshare.
About 200 million Windows users of all flavors, old and new, are being served up with Microsoft’s ballot window (shown above), which is a roadblock-style pop-up forcing them to choose which browser they’d like to use on their PC. For many Windows users, this is an irrelevance: PC-savvy people are well aware of IE’s serious shortcomings in terms of security and compliance with open Web-code standards and will have opted for one of the big competitors: Firefox, Apple Safari for PC and the new pretender Google Chrome. But there are significant numbers of Windows users who’ll have never stopped to think about the matter–because IE has always just been there, and it’s a familiar and “safe” bit of software. They may never have realized that there’s another way to browse the Net.
Hence the E.U. case. MS bundles IE as an integrated part of the Windows experience and presents it as the de facto browser–warts and all. With so many millions of Windows users, this resulted in what the E.U. decided was monopolistic behavior. MS’s solution was a neat work-around before the matter came to a head (perhaps with punitive fines): Present all E.U. netizens with a choice of browser, in a pop-up window that randomly shuffles the browsers so that no one is particularly favored.
According to analytics firm Statcounter, it seems the ballot has now resulted in a slip in IE’s browser marketshare, implying that the average Windows user is more Net-savvy than one may have expected. Many are opting out of the MS product. On the other hand, Mozilla’s Firefox, Google’s Chrome, and even Apple’s Safari are all much more “branded” products than IE. Microsoft has never had to promote IE to the public–it just served it up to them whether they wanted it or not, whereas all of the others have had to engage in PR to get their names known.
IE’s marketshare slip is small for now–just 1% in the U.K., 1.3% in Italy, and 2.5% in France. But that slip is likely to get bigger as more users face the ballot pop-up and as word of mouth and press attention is brought to bear on the issue.
Many a Net programmer will be rejoicing at this news too, thanks to IE’s terrible record in security matters and its non-compliance with Web standards–even the upcoming IE9’s compliance with the new (potentially Flash-killing) HTML5 standard is slightly questionable. And this may even allow us to ask the big question: Is this news the beginning of the end of IE’s automatic dominance in the browser wars?