A ruling by the European Commission will see Microsoft introduce a ‘web browser choice screen' from the 1st March.
Following a ruling in December over competition law issues, Microsoft has made a legally binding commitment that PC manufacturers and users will continue to be able to install any browser on Windows, to make any browser the default browser, and to turn access to Internet Explorer on or off.
Writing in a blog update, Dave Heiner, vice president and deputy general counsel at Microsoft, said that Microsoft has agreed to use Windows Update to provide a browser choice screen to Windows users in Europe who are running Internet Explorer as their default browser.
External testing of the choice screen is to begin this week in the United Kingdom, Belgium and France, and it will present a list of browsers with links to learn more about the choice of browsers and to install them.
Heiner said: “The design and operation of this choice screen was worked out in the course of extensive discussions with the Commission and is reflected in the commitment that Microsoft made. Users who get the choice screen will be free to choose any browser or stick with the browser they have, as they prefer.”
Users will initially be presented with a screen with the headline ‘an important choice to make: your browser', which explains that the browser choice update unpinned their browser (Internet Explorer) from their taskbar. Heiner explained that unpinning a browser will not remove it from your computer and once you have selected your preferred browser, you can easily pin that browser to the taskbar.
Users will be given a random order of a selection of major browsers including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Safari and Opera, as well as Internet Explorer. Heiner said that the software update will also add a shortcut to your desktop, from which you can launch the choice screen at any time.
Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, said that the first that most users will know is when the dialog box pops up with the choice of browsers, however there is a real danger that cyber criminals might attempt to take advantage of this initiative by creating bogus browser choice screens that could pop up on innocent users' PCs and potentially lead them to a malicious download.
He said: “Regardless of the dangers of bogus pop-ups pretending to be the browser choice screen, computer users need to remember that no browser is perfect, and whichever one you choose it is essential that you keep it properly patched and updated to reduce the chance of hackers exploiting security vulnerabilities."
However he did claim that it ‘will be fascinating to see how many regular internet users are intrigued enough by the thought of an alternative way of surfing the web to try out a product other than Internet Explorer'.
“The likes of Google and Mozilla will be rubbing their hands in glee at the chance of increasing their share of the browser market, and this increased exposure should be good for them. It will be fascinating to see how many average internet users are tempted to try surfing via another program,” said Cluley.