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Who ratted out Microsoft on browser ballot absence?

Gregg Keizer | March 11, 2013
No Microsoft browser rival would comment on, much less confirm, that it reported the omission of the browser ballot to European antitrust regulators -- an omission that led to a $732 million fine this week against Microsoft.

While the difference in the figures before, during and after may seem small, when represented as percentages they are more substantial: IE's average monthly decline slowed 22% when the ballot was on holiday, then accelerated by 16% after its return.

The missing browser choice screen also coincided with a significant drop in Firefox's European usage share.

In the 15 months when the ballot was absent, Firefox lost an average 0.47 of a percentage point each month, more than double the 0.2 of a point it fell in the 15 months prior, and nearly triple that of the 0.16 of a percentage point in the seven months after the screen was restored.

Mozilla has already made a case that the omitted ballot impacted Firefox downloads in Europe. Last October, after the Commission formally charged Microsoft with violating the 2009 settlement, Mozilla said the missing browser choice screen cost it an estimated 8.8 million downloads.

At the time, Opera, which filed the 2007 complaint that triggered the Commission's original investigation, also chimed in, saying its downloads had doubled in the months after the screen returned to Windows 7 SP1.

By StatCounter's tracking, the disappearance of the ballot was concurrent with a six-fold jump in Opera's average monthly loss in Europe compared to the 15 months prior. In the seven months after the screen's restoration, however, Opera lost twice as much each month as it had during the ballot's absence.

Google's Chrome was seemingly unaffected, with average European monthly gains during the ballot's holiday of 0.84 of a percentage point, more than either the 0.82 of a percentage point average increase during the 15 months before the ballot vanished or the 0.60 of a percentage point average climb in the seven months since it was again imposed.

Of course, it's possible that the ups and downs of Europe's browser shares before, during and after the ballot's absence were not connected with the choice screen.

Clearly, the ballot's sabbatical did not change the fortunes of any browser, even IE's. StatCounter's numbers clearly show that the trends established before May 2011, when the ballot dematerialized, continued: IE, Firefox and Opera have all been losing share in Europe for years, while Chrome has been the beneficiary, picking up enough share there to push it into the No. 1 spot last summer.

U.S. metrics firm Net Applications, which also measures browser share -- albeit using a different methodology -- declined to provide granular data for Europe similar to what StatCounter offers publicly. But the two data points that Net Applications did share -- the standings in Jan. 2010 and Feb. 2013 -- showed the same general trends: IE, Firefox and Opera lost half or more of their share between the two dates, while Chrome's jumped nearly six-fold.


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