.Net vote rigging illustrates importance of Web services

In December, Java was more popular than .Net for building Web services, according to a ZDNet UK poll, but weeks later the position had dramatically reversed; investigation revealed just what lengths Microsoft will go to to promote its products
Written by Peter Judge, Contributor

Microsoft's .Net Web services technology appeared to experience a sudden massive boost in popularity over its rival Java, according to a poll run by ZDNet UK.

By 21 December, more than two-thirds of the respondents (69.5 percent), said they planned to deliver some applications by Web services by the end of 2002, with a large majority of those (nearly half the total sample) planning to use Java. Only 21.5 percent said they planned to use Microsoft .Net -- less than the figure (23.5 percent) planning to use neither.

But by the time the poll closed, on 5 January, the position had dramatically changed, with three quarters of voters claiming to be implementing .Net. This apparent sudden change of heart over the Christmas period appears to be the result of a concerted campaign within Microsoft.

ZDNet UK logs reveal rather obvious vote rigging, and prove that it originated from within Microsoft:

  • A very high percentage of voters are from within the microsoft.com domain.
  • There is a very high incidence of people attempting to cast multiple votes, even though the poll script blocked out most attempts at multiple voting. The one that wins the prize made 228 attempts to vote. This person was from within the microsoft.com domain.
  • Several of the voters evidently followed a link contained in an email, the subject line of which ran: "PLEASE STOP AND VOTE FOR .NET!" We know this, because our logs include the Web address where visitors browsed from; when people click there from a Microsoft Exchange email message, Exchange helpfully gives us the subject line and username. The people who followed that link all had email addresses in the microsoft.com domain.
  • There is also clear evidence of automated voting, with scripts attempting to post multiple times.

This is not the first time Microsoft has been caught using dubious practices. Last August, lobbyists acting for Microsoft went beyond the grave and dispatched letters to US states' attorneys general from two deceased people as part of a campaign to persuade government prosecutors to lay off the company in the antitrust case. US lobby group the Campaign Against Government Waste (CAGW) posted the letters as part of an attempt to convince attorneys general there was a grass-roots campaign against the case.

Although votes cast after 21 December are suspect, this latest episode illustrates the importance of Web services -- at least to suppliers, anyway. The inevitable conclusion is that these are some of the first salvos in what will be a bitter PR struggle. Microsoft may have shot itself in the foot this time, but future efforts may be a little more subtle.

Peter Judge responds to reader feedback on this article here.

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