Mozilla designer suggests Windows 'browser ballot' is preferential to Apple

In a blog post yesterday first noticed by Computerworld's Gregg Keizer, a member of Mozilla's user experience team -- stating she was not writing on behalf of Mozilla, as the organization allows -- suggested that Microsoft's revised proposal for a Web browser selection screen for European Windows users still isn't fair enough to the browser market.

Because more computer users are accustomed to the typical ways to install software, states Mozilla UX team member Jenny Boriss, they may assume that the first choice that appears in a list is the preferred choice. In Microsoft's original proposal, Internet Explorer 8 appeared in the leftmost column. But in the company's more neutral alternative as proposed last March, it placed browsers in columns sorted in alphabetical order by their manufacturer. As a result, Apple Safari fell first.

"Aside from being unfair to the other browsers, the problem is that past consumer choice has shown that Safari does not provide an ideal browsing experience on Windows," Boriss writes. "Taking IE out of the equation because of its advantage as the bundled browser, the free market really does show what Windows users prefer. Safari has the smallest market share of the five other browsers at 2.6%. Frankly, Safari is a good browser for Apple computers, but Apple hasn't put much effort to make it competitive on Windows. It's just not their priority. So, by listing Safari first, the ballot is presenting as the recommended item the browser that is least likely to be the one the user wants. This leads to users having a bad experience using the Web, and ultimately hurts the user and the market."


The revised version of Microsoft's Web browser ballot screen proposal to the European Commission, dated October 6, 2009.

One alternative Boriss suggests is for browser order to be arranged randomly, and a second would organize browsers by market share order -- like Microsoft had it the first time. But that second solution would place IE first most of the time, which may not be a better solution than placing Apple first. So Boriss suggests a third option: adjusting the random probability in the browser juggling order, so that the first slot is given to each browser in accordance with its assessed usage share.

As Boriss projects it, "Mozilla would be first about 50% of the time, Chrome would be first 30% of the time, Opera 15%, and Safari 5%. This allows for the market forces to have some weigh over placement, but doesn't consistently benefit one browser. The problem is, it still puts some users at a disadvantage who randomly get a less popular browser as the first on the ballot."

According to the latest live statistics from analytics firm NetApplications, all active versions of Firefox combined make up 23.75% of all active Web browsers online, while all active versions of IE make up just under two-thirds. Those numbers are subject to flux over time, although conceivably, a ballot screen mechanism that uses usage share as its baseline could update its numbers live through NetApplications, as we just did.

Mozilla is one of the "interested third parties" whose opinions are being sought by the European Commission during a comments period, before it issues its recommendations on Microsoft's proposal. Boriss' comments may not be officially recognized as coming from Mozilla or the Mozilla Foundation; on the other hand, a prototype recently proposed by Google was not intended to be an "official" comment either.

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