The story of Microsoft's inclusion of Internet Explorer in Windows is a long one. In the United States, it led to the famous antitrust case in 1998, which was eventually settled in 2001. The European Union followed its own path with Internet Explorer, eventually coming to the conclusion that Microsoft had violated European antitrust laws.
In response to this and the upcoming release of Windows 7, Microsoft made the bold move to announce that Windows 7 would ship without Internet Explorer pre-installed in Europe. Users would have to download their own browser, which could be whatever browser they wanted. The EU was not particularly satisfied with this move, so it was back to the drawing board for Microsoft.
The company eventually came with a proposal for a browser ballot, which would give users the option of installing a number of browsers when setting up Windows for the first time, or as part of a Windows update. This proposal pleased the EU, but several other browser makers had a number of complaints.
After a lot of talking, there's now what will probably be the final version of the ballot. The first change I saw was that the browsers are no longer listed in order of market share, but in alphabetical order, based on company name. This gives Safari the top spot.
Other changes are more subtle; there's a page explaining what a web browser is, as well as the "Tell me more" buttons underneath each browser. The EU will also have the ability to review the ballot screen in the future to make sure it will continue to serve its purpose properly.
The EU seems content with the improvements. "The improvements that Microsoft has made to its proposal since July would ensure that consumers could make a free and fully informed choice of web browser," the EU said in a statement. The plan is that the ballot screen will be shipped as an update some time after the release of Windows 7, and that users with IE as the default will get the ballot screen for at least five years.
Opera Software, the most vocal critic of just about anything related to this whole situation, did not yet have anything to comment on, as they are still studying the revised proposal. "Opera Software supports the concept of a ballot screen to give users easy access to better browsers," said Håkon Wium Lie, Chief Technology Officer at Opera, "The important question is how this ballot screen is implemented. We are still studying the announcement from the European Commission and will have further comments at a later stage."