Browser Ballot

Browser ballot. Ballot?

What, like an election? You mean, it’s more than a mere choice, it’s a personal statement of belief, a vote?

It appears that way. Each browser has its manifesto. A page held on a politically neutral website that outlines what the browser stands for.

What the hell?

Today I was doing some Windows updates on a client’s computer, and after I rebooted I saw something that led me to believe their machine had a trojan or spyware. For there was no branding, no explanation, just a box that popped up in an unfamiliar window saying that I had an important choice to make.

This has to be dodgy, right? A virus. Someone trying to steal my data.

The only important choice I have to make right now is what to have for dinner.

No, it’s the European Union ruling against Microsoft, telling them that they have to provide users with a choice of browser. A browser ballot. Yay! I get to vote!

It’s like returning home after your cleaner has been only to find someone took your wooden floor away, and left you a note saying you have an important choice to make. You need to choose what type of floor you would like to use from now on. Wait, you surely bought that floor along with the rest of the house? Like five years ago!

NO! Because a floor is distinctly different to a house. Lots of different people make floors! You should be given a choice! Otherwise it’s unfair on everyone who makes floors!

What the hell? Where is my floor? It’s my house, get out!

This only applies to Microsoft, mind. Your floor would only be temporarily removed if you bought a Microsoft house as your home, not an Apple one, or a Ubuntu one. Oh, and it only applies to Microsoft Homes purchased in the last 10 years. Oh, and it doesn’t apply to Microsoft Mansions (i.e. servers) or mobile homes of any sort (iPod, Windows Mobile). Only middle class homes. It’s because Microsoft are the Barratt Homes of computers. Their bigness makes them inherently bad.

Ok so the difficulty with this metaphor is that everyone in the world knows the difference between a floor and a house, but not everyone in the world knows the difference between a browser and an operating system. You, dear reader, are excused if you do not know the difference, deep down. It’s okay. You are quite normal.

Wait. Even worse to think. More people will vote in this arbitrary browser ballot in the UK than will vote in the general election. Many, many more people. That is so wrong it hurts.

Back on topic, let’s get this straight.

Anyone who actually knows what a browser is has already made their choice.

The remainder (75% of actual people – that is – living human beings with souls who just want to go on the internet without any hassles) do not care.

They will have a decision process forced upon them, be told the decision is important, (what, like abortion? Like looking for a new job?) and then be confounded with a load of options they don’t understand. If they click the window away, it will install a shortcut to the desktop, and come up again on next reboot.

I work in the field of IT Consultancy, and I can testify that to the majority of users, this decision is not as important as who to vote for on X Factor.

The consequence: IT Support will be picking up the pieces, after the sorry mess caused by a load of unsuspecting users who accidentally installed the wrong browser because they had no idea where to click, thus losing all of their settings, saved passwords, and not to mention being bloody confounded because the browser they chose didn’t have the latest version of Adobe Flash, etc.

Make it go away.

My mother doesn’t even know the difference between the address bar and a mouse. Give her a change of browser and she will have to go to night classes again just to learn how to do a Google search. Seriously.

Hell, even the BBC, in tech articles, regularly get operating system and browser confused. That’s how tech savvy we are: rightly or wrongly, our own media can’t even get it right. (Cringe.)

In the name of liberation, choice, freedom? It smacks of jealousy, of fanatical technocracy. It’s almost a religious war. Sure as anything isn’t politics. Or regulation for that matter.

The global tech industry requires solid, effective, and rational sector regulation. The EU has proven its worthlessness once again by entirely missing the point and unleashing its mindless red tape on an easy target. Path of least resistance. What a weak bunch.

It’s micro legislation, and it undermines the fact that the industry is suffering a dearth of real regulation, such as in cyber security, or in the environmental challenges.

Nit-picking at the big guy on a tiny point of interest does nobody any favours.

It’s straight bananas, except far worse.

It sure as anything wasn’t for anti-monopoly reasons because for one, browsers are not a major source of income for anyone (except those who only make browsers… cough cough) and secondly because this will do nothing to put a leash onto the fact Microsoft have cornered the corporate IT market – where the money is.

This is the techno-democracy-brigade equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded theatre.

I’m starting to feel sorry for large conglomerates (for the random outburst of legislation that clearly applies to nobody else) and feeling anger towards libertarian organisations who supposedly want the world to be a better place.

I’m starting to mutter under my breath words like political correctness gone MAD, and I sound like one of those awful Daily Mail readers.

What’s going on with the world?

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4 comments

  1. Exactly my views. ( I’m typing this on Firefox.)
    Microsofities would be having a good laugh over this.
    Personally, i think Mozilla should bug the corporate sector. That’s the best way to market a product. Customise a browser to fit the needs of a company. I’d like to see microsoft customise anything.

  2. Hi,

    Did you post this on opentochoice.org and you feel it was censored? I see two posts from you on there…

    Anyway, as you might imagine (I am a Mozilla employee), I have a slightly different perspective on the matter. I think that your points on confusion for the user are well made. It’s been noted elsewhere that the screen encourages the wrong kind of behaviour for the user. This is worrying, and something that all participants in the browserchoice screen should feed back to Microsoft, who designed it. I would also add that it does not support accessibility very well (a blind person could end up having a default browser that they cannot “read”), and we feel there are more languages in the region than the screen supports.

    But I disagree with your analysis of the market. ” browsers are not a major source of income for anyone (except those who only make browsers… cough cough)”.

    Google have just spent tens of millions of pounds advertising Chrome in Europe – Chrome, a product with no revenue associated with it.

    I think it is fairly reasonable to argue that Microsoft sought to implement closed web standards with Internet Explorer, hence the compatibility issues that IE8 now faces.

    At a macro level, the browser market influences the marketplace. Just because browsers are free-as-in-beer does not make them innocuous.

    To your other point: the user will experience little difference between browsers. I don’t agree. I think that Firefox has the best UX. Opera has a ton of features, but for many users, they seem to lack some discoverability, Chrome renders many sites (especially Google properties like Gmail) extremely quickly and so on and so forth. I think Firefox is a better experience and encourages people to do more on the Web.

    Is the browserchoice screen the best possible way to encourage people to think about the software they are using? Probably not. Is it good that people will be encouraged to think about the software they are using? I think so. But my mood is certainly leavened by your perspective. thank you.

  3. Hi Patrick

    Firstly let me say it’s 8.30am and I haven’t gone to bed yet for all the work I am still trying to finish up from yesterday because I was too busy writing about browser ballots to get on with it! (This is a bad habit of mine.)

    Thank you for your comment, I didn’t feel what I wrote was censored, it was probably silly to jump to that conclusion, however my post appeared to show immediately then when I looked back it was gone. Perhaps my browser didn’t reload the page properly. Hmmm, maybe I should consider changing browsers? (HA)

    In seriousness though, I agree my points on the market weaken the strength of my rant somewhat; you are correct in noting how much cash Google must have spent on advertising and the conclusion you arrive at is more than sensible on this note.

    Also my points around people not wanting change, and whether a change of browsers for the majority of people will make things better – these are part of my general ranty writing style but don’t form the core of my point. I stand by this last point, though. Perhaps in the future people will start to care more about which browser they use, but this is a choice for people to come to themselves, and doesn’t require a governing body to meddle.

    The crux of what I’m trying to say here, however, is not really to do with that. It’s primarily a rant about the EU, and how terribly illogical and inconsistent their ruling appears to be.

    I’m a Brit, and a Euro-enthusiast (believe it or not!) and as such I’m a great supporter of regulation of markets in general. Furthermore I personally have 5 browsers installed as I’m an IT professional, and I use them like tools in a toolbox depending on what’s required. I fire-up Chrome every day because it’s horribly fast and always has been.

    The way I see it, there are three issues:

    1. Should a governing body get involved with regulation? Yes. Regulation of this type? No. I believe it should concern itself if there is a genuine threat to fairness in the marketplace, however I don’t believe that a silly browser war could ever constitute a serious threat, nor do I think that Microsoft’s monopoly on various parts of the IT market will be loosened in the slightest by this ruling. This stems from the fact that I am sceptical when people say “everything from the OS is moving into the browser, soon we won’t need an OS”. This gets said a lot on the BBC and other UK media. It’s really stupid.

    2. Was the browser choice system in Windows Updates well-implemented? No. It was terrible. I honestly don’t know if this is Microsoft being bloody minded about it or what. That’s exactly what I would do if I had such a ridiculous ruling upon my head, I would get some silly monkey to write an application that uses javascript to select the order of how browsers are presented to the user. I’d make sure it wasn’t tested properly, and that it really annoyed the user. (Ok, this probably says more about me than Microsoft, I know. Ha!)

    3. What was the genuine motive of this ruling. I am still scratching my head over this point, in all honesty. From where I’m sitting, it would have been more effective – and more correct – to rule that the governments of constituent countries should stump up the bill for positive advertising of choice in computing in general. There should be a concerted effort to educate the average EU citizen about computing, but this should be a bigger-picture effort led by a local authority rather than this crazy obsession with blaming browsers as if they are the be-all and end-all of computers. There is so much injustice in the democracy of the internet, let alone injustice in the world. But this is not the solution.

    So to summarise, my vitriol is aimed squarely at the politically correct red-tape-waving burEurocrats and their meetings about meetings about meetings about meetings, and their 800 page documents that say nothing, and their secular but strangely fanatical way of going about politics. A fanatical approach to uniformity and pro-choice and pro-education and pro-open-source and pro-everything.

    I really must go to bed now, but thanks for writing!

  4. I have a lot of problems surrounding the entire issue of browser choice. My first issue is financial. Most browser developers do so for a reason, and that reason is to make money. What browser choice does in my opinion is give free advertising to a group of companies who want to make more money.

    To the end user one browser is as good as another. Its only if you are an advanced user, that you will see the benefits of using anything other than IE. If you are an advanced user then you will already know there is choice out there, and will probably have exercised your choice by either installing another browser or doing nothing. So who is this choice really aimed at?

    Going back to my first point about money…

    “Google have just spent tens of millions of pounds advertising Chrome in Europe – Chrome, a product with no revenue associated with it.”

    No revenue? OK so how much data do Google gather using Chrome? how much better ad targeting do they achieve via Chrome in association with personalized search? How much search traffic do they receive from Chrome that converts to ad clicks? Google Chrome is commercial, they know this. Their ad spend is an investment to gain a user base. Google know their return will be far greater long term than their advertising spend.

    Firefox is just as commercial. They send search traffic to Google and get “compensated” rather nicely for it. Lets take 2008 as an example $78.6 Million revenue. Not bad for open source.

    Opera do the same, they provide search traffic to Google and earn commission for ad related activity.

    I’m not suggesting any of this is bad, all companies need to generate revenue, but I just don’t feel many within the browser market are very open about their business operations. Firefox as an example comes across as the small guy fighting the giant, a bit like a modern day David and Goliath. In reality its just a group of companies wanting to increase their revenues by putting pressure on the EU to offer the public choice.

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