For the coming five years, users of Windows in European countries will be confronted with the browser ballot, of which the details are probably known to all of you. The ballot will arrive through Windows Update for existing Windows users, and people who install new copies of Windows will get it right away. OEMs have the ability to pick a default browser in advance. The ballot will be part of Windows XP, Vista, and 7.
"Millions of European consumers will benefit from this decision by having a free choice about which web browser they use," Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said, "Such choice will not only serve to improve people's experience of the internet now but also act as an incentive for web browser companies to innovate and offer people better browsers in the future."
The agreement with the EU also covers interoperability pledges. "Microsoft will ensure that developers throughout the industry, including in the open source community, will have access to technical documentation to assist them in building products that work well with Microsoft products," the company said in a statement, "Microsoft will also support certain industry standards in its products and fully document how these standards are supported. Microsoft will make available legally-binding warranties that will be offered to third parties."
This means that from March 2010 onward, if you have a Windows desktop, you'll be greeted by an annoying randomised ballot screen in which you have to tell Windows to do something you've probably already told it to do in the first place, i.e., to install and make default a decent browser. Pure innovation, this. No other operating system has this feature, giving Windows a decisive edge over the competition. Apple is shaking in its boots for what this will do to its carefully regained market position, and the Linux community will have to hold off its annual Year of the Linux Desktop.
Of course, this will greatly increase competition in the browser market, a market where, over the past couple of years, Firefox has gained a 25% percent worldwide market share, a share which is even higher in most of Europe. This is the same market in which a complete newcomer managed to nab 5% share of the market in less than a year.
Clearly, this market was in dire need of superimposed correction via innovative ballot screen technology. Starting March 2010, expect the internet to sprout flours and dispense vials of pure honeybunny unicorn love.