Minor browsers seek more prominence in Europe

Six browser makers want to become more obvious on the screens that make Windows users in the European Union aware of alternatives to Internet Explorer.

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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

Unhappy with their lot, six of seven second-tier browsers have petitioned regulators for increased prominence on the screen that gives Windows users in the European Union a choice of browsers besides Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

The browser makers on Thursday sent a petition to Neelie Kroes, a European Commission vice president, and other regulators who have been dealing with the browser-choice technology that Microsoft has begun distributing to millions in Europe as part of an antitrust case against the software company. The top five browsers dominate the market, but more obscure browser makers hope the EU antitrust action will grant them more relevance.

Windows users who have IE set as their default browser will see the choice screen after a change sent via Windows Update. The resulting choice screen gives a choice of 12 browsers, but the five that always show without scrolling are IE, Mozilla's Firefox, Opera, Apple's Safari, and Google Chrome, which by Net Applications statistics are the most-used browsers today. The petitioners don't seek a change that could get their browsers onto the first screen, but rather some text or graphics that indicate there are choices beyond the first five.

"It is clear that the final choice screen design leaves the vast majority of users unaware that there are more than five browsers to choose from. This is inconsistent with the EU Commissions' stated goal for the choice screen--to provide European consumers with 'information on the 12 most widely-used Web browsers and to allow users to easily download and install one or more of these Web browsers,'" the petition (PDF) states.

Second-tier browser makers object to the horizontal scrolling required to be seen in the EU browser choice screen. They want some notice added to indicate there are other choices besides the first five.
Second-tier browser makers object to the horizontal scrolling required to be seen in the EU browser-choice screen. They want a notice added to indicate there are other choices besides the first five. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The petition is signed by Jeff Chen, chief executive of Maxthon; Stephen Cheng, president of SlimBrowser maker FlashPeak; Anderson Du, CEO of Avant maker Avant Force; Shawn Hardin, CEO of Flock; Yasuhiro Miki, overseas marketing leader for the Sleipnir browser; and LongFeng Ran, a representative of GreenBrowser. The seventh second-tier browser not on the petition is K-Meleon.

The browser makers sought a place in the browser-choice program during open comment periods in 2009. However, the petition states: "We did not have the opportunity to offer any Browser Choice screen design feedback" after they were notified they had been selected.

The petitioners had asked Microsoft to change the screen but heard back: "We (Microsoft) do not plan on making any changes at this time."

The European Commission's response indicates the petition is fruitless. EC spokeswoman Amelia Torres said Friday in an e-mail to CNET:

"Microsoft's proposed commitments were market tested in the autumn of 2009. The elements of the Choice Screen were published on the Internet and attention was drawn to them both through a press release and a notice in the EU's Official Journal, in all the languages of the Union. Two of the signatories made submissions in response to this market test, but did not raise the suggestions they advance now. Nor did any other market participant. The elements in question therefore remained unchanged when the final commitments were made binding on Microsoft by the Commission's decision of 16 December 2009.

The situation could change, however, if usage of the second-tier browsers picks up.

"As stated in the commitments, any browser has a chance to move up to the top five browsers which are more prominently displayed every six months, when market shares are re-measured. Lastly, should the Choice Screen remedy fail, the Commission may review it under the conditions laid down in the commitments annexed to the Commission's commitments decision," Torres said.

Updated at 9:00 a.m. PST with the EU's response.