One Windows. Multiple Browsers. Bundled. I Like It!

By  |  Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 5:16 pm

win7firefox1Once again, those wacky Europeans are making life difficult for Microsoft. A site called EurActive is reporting that Microsoft’s ongoing antitrust tussle with the European Commission will result in the company being forced to help European Windows users opt for a browser that isn’t Internet Explorer. The details are yet to be worked out–the OS might include some sort of mechanism for choosing among multiple browsers, or Microsoft might be forced to work with PC manufacturers to install alternative browsers on new systems. Microsoft is apparently concerned enough that it has a secret plan to delay Windows 7’s release if necessary, reports our own Dave Worthington.

When you’re forced to do something you don’t particularly want to do, there are two ways to go about it: grudgingly or whole-heartedly. Previous legally-mandated editions of Windows such as the Korea-only Windows XP K and KN are the result of the first approach, and I’m not sure if they made anyone other than the government officials who required them happy.

But what if Microsoft poured its collective energy, intellect, and resources into making the best possible multiple-browser Windows–and then made it the standard version of the OS worldwide?

Such a move would make sense for Windows users for sure. There are more significant Windows browsers–IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari, Chrome, and lovable underdog Flock–than at any time since the mid-1990s. (Um, strike that: Even then, I don’t think there were half a dozen serious players.) For a variety of reasons, lots of use more than one of them, at least occasionally. And yet I don’t know of a single OS that acknowledges that it’s a multi-browser world, other than providing the ability to specify a default browser.

So what if Microsoft made it all easy in Windows 7? The possibilities are obvious:

–It could provide a better, easier-to-find mechanism for choosing the default browser. Starting with Windows setup itself, which could ask you for your browser of choice, then automatically download and install the newest version.

–It could let you install Windows with as many or as few browsers as you wanted. Including the option of an IE-free Windows, just to prove that the playing ground is indeed level.

–It could let the user opt out of the idea of a default browser altogether. If I had my druthers, I might vote for some sort of menu that let me choose the browser I wanted to launch on the fly each the the OS needs to display a page.

–It could sync bookmarks and other settings between browsers. Either by incorporating a utility for doing so or getting ambitious and building bookmarks into the OS as a core service. Bonus points if it lets you sync bookmarks across multiple browsers on multiple copies of Windows on multiple PCs.

–It could sync tabs between browsers. Automatically and transparently, even, so the stuff you’re browsing travels with you.

–It could make it easier to find plug-ins and add-ons, and to manage them across multiple browsers. Microsoft’s own Silverlight for sure, but how about other ones like Flash, too?

–It could help you manage updates and wrangle multiple installs of different versions of one browser. Like Firefox 3.0 and 3.1, for instance–right now, I’m jumping between them, and it’s not much fun. This notion seems like a stretch given that Microsoft doesn’t even do anything to assist with running multiple versions of IE on one PC, but as long as I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming big.

All of this stuff could be managed in a system-level dashboard of some sort–call it Browser Center. If Windows 7 had it and it was done well, I’d be excited, at least. So would lots of other folks–especially if browser choice became a key message of the Windows 7 marketing campaign. (It would sure count as Windows Without Walls.)

Back in the day, there was zero chance that Microsoft would contemplate doing any of this unless the law mandated it and it couldn’t wriggle itself out of doing so–the company clearly thought it was essential that it do everything in its power to make IE as pervasive as it could. Today? It’s possible that Microsoft still thinks that way, but I kind of doubt that the company’s fate rests on IE’s market share. Maybe, just maybe, the company could do itself more good by helping millions of customers get more out of the non-Microsoft browsers they’re already using than to gnash its teeth over IE’s declining share.

So I’d say there’s…oh, a ten percent change of Microsoft being willing to do something along these lines. No, five. But I still think it would be doing itself a favor if it scared itself a bit by taking radical measures to make its customers happy and productive.

If nothing else, it would be entertaining to see how the EU reacted to Microsoft embracing its call for browser neutrality with a vengeance. Not to mention Microsoft nemeses such as Opera’s Jon Van Tetzchner, Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker, and Google’s Sundar Pichai, all of who have thoughtfully weighed in with advice to the EC on how to address antitrust concerns relating to Microsoft’s bundling of OS and browser. How would they respond if Microsoft suddenly renounced its browser boogeyman status forever?


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7 Comments For This Post

  1. L1A Says:

    “Once again, those wacky Europeans are making life difficult for Microsoft.”

    I think MS made life difficult for themselves when they made EI part of Windows, instead stand alone app that you can actually delete.

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    In case it wasn’t clear–my reference to wacky Europeans was in jest. And I agree that Microsoft’s intermingling of Windows and IE hasn’t done anyone any favors in the long run.


  3. CS Clark Says:

    How would they respond if Microsoft suddenly renounced its browser boogeyman status forever? They would say ‘That was easy, let’s see what else we can make them eat.’

  4. pond Says:

    It seems to me that with the windows-live and ms-cloud services coming, and msft eager to chow down on subscription plans and dominating anything that goes beyond the desktop-client model, that IE becomes even MORE important to them. Getting a built-in browser that fully accesses the ms-cloud services and subscriptions is something vital; can msft be sure that opera, safari, firefox would do that well? But they can make sure that ID does.

    My understanding of Windows7 is that whatever version you buy, or comes bundled on your new pc, it will have portions of windows missing – portions that always used to come with windows. Things like Outlook Express, for example. Losing these modules means that new machines boot faster, run leaner; but many users like these modules, and of course msft would like us all to use them. So it provides methods to download them.

    I don’t know if these modules will be free, or for pay. But it’s also been said that Windows7 lower versions will be able to be upgraded to higher versions via simple click and pay, built in to the OS. This requires some sort of internet handling, and the easiest way to do this is via IE.

    Once you are fed up with 3-apps only Win7 starter edition, you will want to give msft your money (and your credit card info) to upgrade, seamlessly, over the net. And now msft has that credit card info, and it becomes Amazon-simple to buy other services and features from msft. Voila, msft has now moved seamlessly, if only partially, into cloud computing, subscription-based software, and SAAS.

    Having a Firefox-edition Windows7 sounds great to me, but it does further complicate the whole bundling/buying process – 6 versions of windows7 now become 36? Nightmare! – and it doesn’t further msft’s ultimate goals of maintaining predominance and de facto monopoly over the pc.

  5. ediedi Says:

    All MS have to do to make it right is to make IE easily and cleanly unistallable. I don’t think it would make sense to make them bundle other companies’ browsers (even so, it would have to apply also to Apple)

  6. Chris Peterson Says:

    After years of complaining about windows “bloat” it seems strange to be calling for more stuff. The fact is that every OS needs a default browser, and the reason is the users. I’m sorry but the average user does not really care which browser they use, they just want one, and having internet services built into the OS is critical.

    MSFT is slowly losing browser market share, even with their silly bundling practices, its so 90’s to be still arguing about this.

  7. rosewater Says:

    I use all of those web browsers mentioned, except for Safari (which last time I used it, was pretty slow on windows) and Flock, which I have not investigated yet.