It's been a long time coming, but after a significant amount of huffing and puffing from the EU, Microsoft is finally ready to roll out the 'ballot screen' that will offer European Windows users who have Internet Explorer set as their default Web browser the chance to switch to competing software.
The ballot screen will be sent via Windows Update to PCs around the globe, and will launch as a pop-up the next time customers fire up IE. A range of alternative browsers will then be offered for your perusal. Once the ballot launches, Internet Explorer will be 'unpinned' from the Windows Task Bar, and will remain vanished unless users manually add it back on.
Currently there are 12 browsers available on the ballot. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Opera are all visible when the ballot launches, and scrolling through reveals some more obscure options, namely AOL, Maxthon, K-Meleon, Flock, Avant brower, Sleipnir and SlimBrowser.
As you can imagine, the arrangement and order of these alternatives has been a matter of some debate. The 'big five' were granted first-page status on the basis of ranking the highest with metrics companies comScore, Net Applications and StatCounter. Initially Microsoft planned to list the browsers in alphabetical order, which would have put Apple's Safari in the top spot, but this was quickly quashed by rival companies who feared this would give Safari an unfair advantage.
The big five therefore appear in a randomised order to avoid favouritism, although a Slovakian tech site has criticised the randomness algorithms Microsoft has used -- apparently Chrome appears in the first three choices more often than it should, and Internet Explorer pops up on the far right more frequently than it would if the results were left completely to chance. If you fancy testing Microsoft's algorithms for yourself, all you have to do is head over to this site and hit 'refresh' 10,000 times.
Internet Explorer historically dominates the browser market, although in the last few years we've seen that change somewhat, with Firefox and Chrome rapidly gaining ground. As soon as we see some stats on how this new ballot affects browser popularity, we'll let you know.
Microsoft gives with one hand and takes with the other, however -- starting today, the release candidate version of Windows 7 will begin shutting down every two hours, with no chance to save your work. The release candidate was effectively a free way to try Windows 7, but those who were enjoying Microsoft's latest operating system on the cheap will now face a rude awakening as their computers are rendered more or less unusable by automatic shutdowns.
These shutdowns will continue until 1 June, at which point the Windows 7 release candidate will cease to be recognised as a legitimate version of Windows, and your wallpaper will be replaced with an imposing 'This version of Windows is not genuine' message. Your only option then, should you wish to continue using Windows 7, will be to find yourself a recognised copy, and this means coughing up the cash.