Europe’s Web Users Cast their Ballots

It turns out some users really were open to the ideas of trying browsers other than Internet Explorer: they just needed a nudge in the right direction.

Opera reports that downloads of its browser have more than doubled since the introduction of a “ballot screen” in Europe which prompts IE users to consider installing a range of browsers. The screen was the final settlement in a long running dispute between Microsoft and the European Union over claims, instigated by Opera, that Microsoft had an unfair advantage by including Internet Explorer on Windows.

The screen, which appears only to users who have Internet Explorer set as the default, lists the 12 most widely user browsers in Europe along with a brief description. Users can then choose one or more browsers to install, or simply stick with Internet Explorer. The browsers appear on a horizontal scroll bar: the five most popular (Chrome, Firefox, IE, Opera and Safari) appear in a random order when the screen appears, with the remainder available by scrolling along.

There were some major drawbacks to the system however. While it was well known within the tech industry, nobody seems to have done a great job of explaining it to the general public. That’s left a lot of users — perhaps a tiny percentage, but that still makes a large number across the continent — who had no idea what the ballot screen was and assumed it was some form of virus which was attempting to hijack their browser.

In the first few days after the screen went out as a test in some countries, early signs showed there was some effect, with both Mozilla and Opera reporting increased downloads. At the time that was far from conclusive: Mozilla noted 50,000 downloads coming from the screen, a tenth of its daily download figures, while Opera’s report of a steep rise in downloads was difficult to assess given that a new edition of the browser had just come out.

Now though, Opera has figures from a three-day period from last week which suggest a significant rise. Across the continent it says downloads have more than doubled, rising by 130% compared with “normal” levels. It also notes that more than half of its European downloads during the period came directly from the ballot screen.

One note of caution is that there is a vast disparity between different countries: downloads in Hungary are up 53% while those in Poland are up 328%. There doesn’t appear to be any obvious local or cultural reason why the figures differ so much. One possibility is that the screen continues to be rolled out across Europe (reaching all IE users by mid-May) and may not have been appearing at the same rate in all countries.

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