03.02.10

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Browser Ballot Critique

Posted in Antitrust, Europe, Free/Libre Software, Microsoft, Windows at 4:49 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Ballot box

Summary: Press coverage about the ‘browser choice’ update and further confirmation that Microsoft is cheating and escaping cheaply

THE British press wrote quite a lot about Microsoft’s Web browser ballot (see The BBC, The Inquirer, and The Register for example) because it affects Europeans and the UK is the country that speaks English. For reasons that we explained before [1, 2, 3], this ballot misses the point, but it is probably called “controversial” for all the wrong reasons. For example:

Secondly, the controversial Windows Browser Ballot screen goes live today across all versions of Windows for users around the EU. Only those who have Internet Explorer (any edition) setup as their primary browser will see the notice which displays the four most popular alternatives (Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Opera) along with IE8.

“Does it allow you to have more than the one browser on the computer at any one time,” asks one of our readers. “And is the quality of the screen an accident?”

Microsoft’s ballot cheating is an issue that we raised last week. Rob Weir from IBM has run extensive tests to show that Microsoft is indeed cheating:

The story first hit in last week on the Slovakian tech site DSL.sk. Since I am not linguistically equipped to follow the Slovakian tech scene, I didn’t hear about the story until it was brought up in English on TechCrunch. The gist of these reports is this: DSL.sk did a test of the “ballot” screen at www.browserchoice.eu, used in Microsoft Windows 7 to prompt the user to install a browser. It was a Microsoft concession to the EU, to provide a randomized ballot screen for users to select a browser. However, the DSL.sk test suggested that the ordering of the browsers was far from random.

But this wasn’t a simple case of Internet Explorer showing up more in the first position. The non-randomness was pronounced, but more complicated. For example, Chrome was more likely to show up in one of the first 3 positions. And Internet Explorer showed up 50% of the time in the last position. This has lead to various theories, made on the likely mistaken theory that this is an intentional non-randomness. Does Microsoft have secret research showing that the 5th position is actually chosen more often? Is the Internet Explorer random number generator not random? There were also comments asserting that the tests proved nothing, and the results were just chance, and others saying that the results are expected to be non-random because computers can only make pseudo-random numbers, not genuinely random numbers.

Did anyone expect any better from Microsoft?

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