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'Gang of Six' browsers petition EU for immediate review of Browserchoice screen

EU Browser Choice Screen
Six of the twelve browsers chosen to be a part of the EU "Browser Choice Screen" petitioned the European Commission on Thursday, asking politely -- very politely -- that the Commissioners "consider any of the following suggestions which could be easily and quickly implemented and would allow users to exercise choice."

"Ok, seriously? Already? WTF!", was my immediate reaction. has been circulating for a little over a week, long enough for some armchair statistical analysis and at least one report of a stunning increase in Opera downloads.

So what's the big deal?

I spoke with Flock's CEO Shawn Hardin by phone, and -- to be quite frank -- he changed my mind.

"Our petition is entirely about embracing, supporting and activating -- if you will -- the decision," added to which, Hardin made clear, "the philosophical question has already been answered by the Commission."

At issue is that Microsoft's EU Browser Choice screen -- which will be rolled out to an estimated 192 million computers over the next 90 days -- provides little indication that more than the 5 top browsers (Safari, Opera, Chrome, Firefox and IE) are available via the tool.

Shawn's point, and a difficult one to argue against, is that the screen as currently designed doesn't really meet the spirit upon which the agreement was reached. By placing the browser-war front-runners in the top five slots they've already created a caste system of first rate and second rate browsers -- what the gang of six is attempting to address doesn't even begin to form a rallying cry against bias. All they've asked for is a little indication to the average user that 7 other choices exist in a world just beyond the scrollbar.

"We have not asked for a redesign. We have not asked for anything substantial in terms of a re-think [ of the screen ]", Flock's CEO emphatically stated during our call. "There are any of a myriad of small changes that we believe, would completely change the awareness of a user that they have twelve choices, instead of five. And that is what the European Commission stated was their intent."

Lest we forget, the browser choice screen isn't something that was forcibly imposed on Microsoft, it was a compromise proposed by MS and accepted by the EU in exchange for dropping a lengthy and rather damning anti-trust case.

But, perhaps Flock and the other gang of six browsers -- as vocal as they already are -- should yell just a bit louder. Survey the 12 available browser choices and you'll find another shocking indication that Microsoft may be dealing from the bottom of the deck; Of the twelve browsers, 5 of them use Internet Explorer's "Trident" rendering engine -- ostensibly making them re-skinned clones of IE for all intents and purposes.

How's that for "choice"? As Henry Ford famously said, you can have the Model-T in any color you wish, just as long as it's black.

At best -- avoiding any implication of malice or forethought -- is half-assed and lazy design. Allowing for even a vague attempt at slight-of-hand on the part of Microsoft, it's hard not to assume someone within the organization is seeking a little more elbow room from an already wrist-slap sweet EU settlement.

Whether you care about the browser wars or not -- and even the biggest Intarweb fanbois could hardly be blamed for tiring of the endless back and forth -- what's at stake here is bigger than one silly JavaScript "chooser", even if that chooser will eventually be viewed by nearly a quarter-billion people. Microsoft's commitment to their own self-proposed plan is the real issue.

The bits of the EU settlement that Microsoft have yet to enact include opening up application data, documentation and APIs to third party developers. If is any indication of how earnestly Redmond will stick to the intent of it's own self-written settlement, what hope should the EU have that they'll make an honest attempt at honoring the remainder of the agreement?

Tags: analysis, EU, European union, EuropeanUnion, features, Firefox, flock, IE, internet explorer, InternetExplorer