07 October 2009

Browser Ballot Screen: Time to Prepare

It looks like it's happening:


The European Commission will on 9 October 2009 formally invite comments from consumers, software companies, computer manufacturers and other interested parties on an improved proposal by Microsoft to give present and future users of the Windows PC operating system a greater choice of web browsers. The commitments have been offered by Microsoft after the Commission expressed specific concerns that Microsoft may have infringed EC Treaty rules on abuse of a dominant position (Article 82) by tying its web browser (Internet Explorer) to its client PC operating system Windows, and are an improved version of the proposals made by Microsoft in July 2009 (see MEMO/09/352 ). The improvements concern greater information to consumers about web browsers, the features of each browser, an improved user experience as well as a review by the Commission to ensure the proposals genuinely work to benefit consumers. Interested parties can submit comments within one month. The Commission welcomes Microsoft’s proposal as it has the potential to give European consumers real choice over how they access and use the internet. Following the market test, the Commission could decide to adopt a decision under Article 9 (1) of Regulation 1/2003, which would make the commitments legally binding on Microsoft.

It's hard to comment on this until we see what form the ballot screen will take, but I'm prepared to accept that this may be done in a fair manner. Assuming it is, what might the implications be?

Perhaps the most important one is that Firefox needs to be prepared for a massive onslaught when this goes live. I have heard the slightly tongue-in-cheek suggestion that Microsoft is hoping to bring Firefox's servers to their collective digital knees by allowing such a ballot screen; even assuming that's not the case, it's certainly true that Mozilla must start planning for the sudden peak in interest that is likely to follow the implementation of the ballot screen idea. It would be a terrible shame if people tried to download Firefox and failed because the Mozilla servers keel over.

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10 comments:

brianlj said...

Does Mozilla do BitTorrent downloads like Opera does?

glyn moody said...

@brian: not natively, but there are lots of addons:

http://bit.ly/FGFmV

Asa Dotzler said...

There are approximately 170 million Windows PCs with IE still set as the default in the EEA (the EU plus Norway and Iceland) and Microsoft intends to roll out ballot updates to those users over a 3 month window.

Assuming that 1 in 3 of the people that see the ballot actually make a browser choice other than IE (highly optimistic, I think) and that Firefox gets 1/3rd of those clicks (highly optimistic) and you're talking about ~20 million European Windows users coming to get Firefox over a period of 3 months.

We can already comfortably serve 20-30 million downloads in a day. I think we'll be fine.

glyn moody said...

@asa: thanks for the analysis. A few questions, if I may.

Is that 170 million the number of XP and Vista users with IE still as default?

Why are you so pessimistic on the number choosing Firefox? What else are they going to choose?

The other thing I'm not quite clear on is why the three-month window: my understanding was that this would be implemented as a Service Pack to XP and Vista: wouldn't that be all at once?

I'm just trying to think through worst-cases if Microsoft decided to make things a little interesting for Mozilla...

Asa Dotzler said...

"Is that 170 million the number of XP and Vista users with IE still as default?"

Here's my math: The European Economic Area represents 78% of Europe's online population, 315 million users. The Windows installed base is estimated at approximately 285 million users, and IE market share on Windows in the EEA is at 61.7%, which gives a total of 176.5 million users who might be expected to see this ballot.

"Why are you so pessimistic on the number choosing Firefox? What else are they going to choose?"

The "installed base" of users in Europe that still have IE 6 -- most of those 176.5 million users, don't know what a browser is and won't know what a browser ballot means. It's optimistic, I think, to assume that anywhere near a majority will do anything but close the window without taking any action.

Those who do take action, I think, will be basically making random guesses. For the action-takers, IE is probably the most recognizable icon and I suspect it will garner the majority of the clicks, regardless of placement in the ballot. Google also has a higher-profile logo than Firefox so I suspect Google will get the next highest number of clicks. Firefox will probably come in third. (Then there's the ballot order issues. People tend to click the first item, in the proposal that's Safari, more often than the second. They also click middle items more often than the others (except first item) so Firefox has second to worst placement in the ordering as proposed.)

All that is why I think that the number who actually attempt to get Firefox will be in the tens of millions. That's not really bad at all. If this ballot means that over a period of 3 months, Firefox gains 10-20 million new users, I think it will be a big success. That growth could put Firefox right up against IE share in Europe. With a boost like that, Firefox could even surpass IE in Europe in the next year.

"The other thing I'm not quite clear on is why the three-month window: my understanding was that this would be implemented as a Service Pack to XP and Vista: wouldn't that be all at once?"

Microsoft have said explicitly that it's a 3 month window from start to completion. "For Windows XP and Windows Vista users the Ballot Screen update will first be made available eight weeks after the adoption of the Commission's decision ... with the roll-out to all current Windows XP and Windows Vista users being essentially completed within 5 months after adoption of the Commission's decision"

"I'm just trying to think through worst-cases if Microsoft decided to make things a little interesting for Mozilla..."

Yeah. I've spoken with the people running this show on MS's side and they're in no way trying to do anything here that would hurt the vendors in the ballot. This deal is just too big and important to them to let anything at all petty get in the way.

In addition, I'm sure that if any of the browser vendors were worried about traffic volume (we're not, we can serve updates to 300 million Firefox users in a couple of days) that Microsoft would be happy to work with those vendors help throttle the traffic.

- A

glyn moody said...

Interesting, especially your comment about Microsoft's attitude - thanks.

One final thought: might it not be worth Mozilla's while to try to raise the awareness of Firefox before all this happens? It might pay off handsomely in terms of people choosing something they've just been made aware of....

Asa Dotzler said...

"One final thought: might it not be worth Mozilla's while to try to raise the awareness of Firefox before all this happens? It might pay off handsomely in terms of people choosing something they've just been made aware of...."

Absolutely. Everyone in Europe should be hearing from their tech-savvy friends "hey, next week, this 'ballot thing' is going to pop up on your computer. All you need to know is to click the red fox" or something like that. You can bet Google, Opera, and Apple, will all be rolling out serious marketing pushes backed by millions of dollars so we had better mobilize our community (we already have something like 100 million happy Firefox users there) to spread the word in advance of the ballot.

I think that if we're effective there, we could see the high side of my estimates rather than the low side.

Also, there's a who other piece of the puzzle here. This is a five year agreement which means that every new Windows PC that ships with IE as the default for the next 5 years will have a ballot.

Until this proposal, Microsoft just got all those new PCs by default. Now at least some number of the new machines won't automatically go to IE.

They're already falling in share in Europe and cutting into some of their "new machine" advantage should speed up the rate of their fall.

That's a fine thing too.

- A

glyn moody said...

I can't wait....

Anonymous said...

http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20091010104533940

glyn moody said...

thanks