'Ballot Screen' Heading to Office 2010, Too

In a bid to prove that no idea is bad enough to not be used again, Microsoft recently revealed that it will try to head off antitrust action in Europe around its Office product line by adding an Office document "ballot screen" to the next version of Office, Office 2010. The ballot screen would work like the web browser ballot screen currently planned for European Union (EU) versions of Windows 7. However, in this case, the screen would provide users with a way to pick which document format they prefer.

I know. It sounds like April Fools. And it's hard to imagine what a typical consumer would think of a screen that described the differences between DOC, DOCX, and ODF formats, as if such a thing was even meaningful for most. But that is exactly what Microsoft has proposed to EU regulators. And if I'm reading the vibe from Brussels correctly, you can expect them to accept it. Ballot screens all around, people.

The Office 2010 ballot screen idea was actually announced at the same time as the Windows 7 browser ballot screen, over a week ago, but it didn't get a lot of press because of the hoopla surrounding Microsoft's next Windows. Looking at the Word document describing the screen, however‒it was delivered in classic "DOC" format, if you're curious‒a few details emerge.

"Beginning with Office \[2010\], end users that purchase Microsoft's Primary PC Productivity Applications in the \[European Economic Area\] will be prompted in an unbiased way to select the default file format for those applications upon the first boot of any one of them," the Microsoft proposal reads. Microsoft will also make tools available to enterprises in the EU so that they can auto-specify which format their users will see when using Office.

If the proposal is accepted by the EU, it would be in effect for 10 years.

Microsoft hasn't specified which formats would appear in the ballot screen, beyond its own DOC and DOCX formats and the open source ODF format. Microsoft previously added ODF support to Office 2007 via the release of a service pack.

My mind boggles at the possibilities for ballot screens throughout Microsoft's products. Perhaps you could get an advertisement for Sony's PlayStation 3 the first time you boot up a new Xbox 360. Or maybe a choice of Google Apps when you install Microsoft Exchange Server. You have to think the EU would be A-OK with both of those.

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