Microsoft’s About To Lose More Web Browser Users

Windows 95’s big OS-browser integration is now but a memory – from March 1, and likely through gritted teeth, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) will start offering European Windows users a choice of web browsers.

This is in compliance with a December European Commission antitrust agreement that stops it from pushing its own Internet Explorer exclusively, and is likely to mean a market-share hike for Google’s Chrome, Firefox and Opera, whose complaint to the EC kicked off its year-long competition inquiry.

The choice will not only be given through new Windows installs but also to all existing Windows Xp, Vista and 7 users via Windows Update – an estimated 170 million computers, starting in the UK, France and Belgium.

Here’s the screen users will see when they download the update…

Microsoft needs to hold on to browser users because the success of MSN is heavily tied to the traffic it gets from Internet Explorer. But IE’s share European share has fallen to 45 percent, ahead of Firefox’s 39 percent, according to Statcounter. Chrome is growing fastest, but still only has 6.3 percent.

Source: StatCounter Global Stats – Browser Market Share

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) (and, hence, its suite of services) could be the biggest beneficiary – Internet Explorer’s security deficiencies have been in the spotlight thanks to high-profile warnings from France and Germany, Firefox is nowadays suffering from memory allocation issues – but Google has given Chrome a hefty marketing campaign across the continent’s media, as well as on its own services.

There is, however, a lesson in Microsoft’s European browser relations for Google, as it introduces its Chrome OS, which itself uses its own exclusive web browser.