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IE download numbers scam – how it worked

And how MS spinmeisters plagiarised the fatal press release without noticing the discrepancy

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Microsoft's admission that it told huge fibs about the number of copies of Internet Explorer four users downloaded in 1997 should have been a lot more embarrassing - because actually the two releases covering downloads of 4 and 5, one from 3 October 97 and one from 24 March 1999, seem to have come from the same boilerplate. This week Microsoft trumpeted that downloads of IE 5, launched on 18 March, had passed a million, tripling the previous record set by IE 4. Five days separate the launch and the press release, which means there must have been around 333,000 downloads of 4 in the first five days. But back on 3 October 1997 Microsoft claimed more than a million downloads of IE 4 in the first two days. This interesting discrepancy is explained by Microsoft as being accounted for by the company having counted each and every download of the Active Setup executable as a full download of IE 4. As those of you who've been rash enough to try to download Microsoft software will know, this vicious little piece of code installs on your machine in a twinkling, then you sit back for hours as it proceeds to pull megabyte after megabyte of application (sorry, operating system enhancement) off the MS Web site. You get bored and pull the plugs, or the connection breaks. Some people even manage to get all of the software sometimes, eventually. Rather than turning beetroot, MS spokespeople have been saying they just decided to be more rigorous and only count complete downloads, one of them telling Reuters: "Either way you measure it, IE5 is more than triple the downloads." That's actually rather revealing, because if we do a rough calculation based on 330,000 complete downloads of 4 over five days, front-load it a bit for the launch so therefore call it 150,000 over the first two days, then we get a download failure rate of something in the region of 85 per cent. If that's still the case at 5, then over 6.5 million people have failed to download IE 5. But seriously, things must have improved in the interim. But not round at MS Spin Central, where they can write the same release twice without noticing the discrepancies. Let's take a look at the texts (we've italicised the plagiarism for your convenience): "Customer response to Internet Explorer 4.0 has been overwhelming," said Brad Chase, vice president in the applications and Internet client group at Microsoft. "We're blown away by the user demand and thrilled about the critical acclaim and recommendations Internet Explorer 4.0 has received from the industry's leading publications." - 3 October 1997. "Customer response to Internet Explorer 5 has been simply amazing," said Yusuf Mehdi, director of Windows marketing at Microsoft. "We're thrilled with the number of downloads by customers over the first few days, and are gratified by the broad acclaim and recommendation from the industry's leading technical experts." - 24 March 1999. Microsoft Web Site has Record Day with Launch of Internet Explorer 4.0 - 3 October 1997. Microsoft Web Site Experiences Record Traffic With Launch of Internet Explorer 5 - 24 March 1999. The incredible demand for Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 brought a record number of visitors to Microsoft's Web site this week. - 3 October 1997. The incredible demand for Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 brought a record number of visitors to the Microsoft Web site over the last five days. - 24 March 1999. But enough of that. We hesitate to quote numbers, considering that they sometimes turn out to be nonsense, but Microsoft also inadvertently offers some interesting comparative data about its site traffic. The IE 5 release says traffic at microsoft.com has been 140 per cent up on normal levels since the launch, while in days of 4 it was up 150 per cent. On 30 September 1997, IE 4 Day Zero, the site had 1.5 million visitors requesting 31 million pages of content, so that would give you standard daily traffic of 600,000 at that time. IE 5 Day Zero, 18 March 1999, saw 4 million users request 44 million pages, so as that's 140 per cent up we can reckon standard daily traffic now being in the region of 1.7 million. Microsoft's apparent admission that its visitors average 11 pages each is interesting too, as in the February Netratings report Microsoft site visitors were already ninth least committed in the top ten list of Web properties, averaging 15 pages each. Freefall, folks? ®

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