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Microsoft changes algorithm behind its browser ballot

Microsoft has tweaked the algorithm generating the browser choice screen that it is pushing out to European Union users as a result of the European Commission's findings in an antitrust case there.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft has tweaked the algorithm generating the browser choice screen that it is pushing out to European Union users as a result of the European Commission's findings in an antitrust case there.

Shortly after Microsoft began pushing the browser ballot to Windows users in the EC who have Internet Explorer installed as their default browser (on March 1), various parties began complaining about it.

TechCrunch reported that there seemed to be something amiss about the way Microsoft's browser ballot was "randomizing" the choices, back on February 22 -- before Microsoft released the ballot in final form to customers across the EU.  Once the ballot was released on March 1, some of the browser vendors whose products were on page 2 of the ballot were unhappy they weren't on page one. IBMer Rob Weir -- a vocal critic of Microsoft's during the OpenDoc vs. Open Document Format standards battles -- said he'd found that the ballot wasn't actually generating random results, as it was supposed to do.

Before the final version of the ballot was approved, Microsoft was planning to list the top browsers by market share in alphabetical order by vendor, but after push back from some of its competitors, scrapped that plan in favor of an algorithm-generated random listing.

Microsoft officials acknowledged the company made a change to the algorithm behind the ballot, but declined to say exactly when this happened, or to concede that complaints were behind its move (other than to make a refernce to developer feedback in the official comment on the topic).

“We can confirm that we made a change to the random icon order algorithm in the browser choice screen for Europe.  We are confident the algorithm change will be an improvement.  As always, we are grateful for the feedback we get from developers, and we thank those who commented on the topic and suggested changes," said Kevin Kutz, Director, Public Affairs, in an e-mailed statement.

As a result of its antitrust settlement with the EC in the Opera browser-bundling case, Microsoft is required to offer he browser ballot screen — which lists the top 12 (by market share) browsers that run on Windows, with information about each — to Windows users in most of the countries in Europe.

Last week, ECIS, a European lobbyist group comprised of many Microsoft competitors, began agitating for Microsoft to offer the browser ballot to Windows users outside the EC.

(Thanks to ArsTechnica which noted Microsoft's browser-ballot algorithm change in a mention on its site on March 8.)

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