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MSNBC blunders over poll position

Netscape, Mac users barred from 'future of Microsoft' vote. Curious, no?

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Polls conducted on the Internet are prone to being invaded by afficionados who wish their view to prevail. There are, of course, other ways to give an incorrect picture of sentiment, such as miscounting the voting, or -- as has just happened -- having a bug that does not allow certain categories of voters to express a view. As pointed out by Joeri Sebrechts ("How about that MSNBC?" in The Register Bulletin Board), an MSNBC poll after Judge Jackson's findings strangely did not allow Netscape Navigator users to vote. Nobody expects MSNBC to be particularly anti-Microsoft, but the service was badly caught out when it asked whether readers agreed that Microsoft had monopoly power and that consumers have been harmed, and what should happen. As is so often the case, the form of the questions was technically flawed, but that was not the major problem (only one remedy could be suggested, for example). Netscape users found they could not vote because the voting buttons, which appeared fleetingly, did not render properly. Debate centred around whether this was deliberate, since denying voting to Netscape users would most likely bias the result towards Microsoft, or whether it was just incompetent. It was soon flushed out that the problem was with Netscape's buggy way of dealing with cascading style sheets. The Opera browser (which is as near standard as you can get in a browser) did render the questionnaire correctly, as did Mozilla M10 but not KDF. This begs the question as to whether MSNBC knew that Netscape had a problem in this area, which was exploited, or again, was just technically incompetent. It was noteworthy that the site proclaims that it is "optimised for IE and Windows Media Player" and is maintained by MSNBC Interactive News, One Microsoft Way, Fort Redmond. The problem was reported to MSNBC, and suddenly the applet was fixed for Netscape with Windows. Brock Meeks, the chief Washington correspondent for MSNBC, claimed after the bug had been fixed that the site did work for Windows and Netscape, but did not admit to the problem. He did admit however that it was impossible for Mac users to vote -- whether they used IE or Navigator. Considering all the facts, the most likely explanation is that it is not MSNBC's normal practice to test pages with anything but Microsoft software. It is probable that at least some people at the MS end of MSNBC knew that Netscape had a problem with CSS, and were happy to exploit this weakness. That the poll did not work for the Mac, even with IE, reinforces the evidence for incompetence. This is not the first time that Microsoft has played these kinds of tricks. When Microsoft acquired the Internet Gaming Zone, Mac users were deliberately barred, in the forlorn hope that they would give up their kit and shift to Wintel. Oh yes, the result of the MSNBC poll: of 24,000 votes, two-thirds thought Microsoft did have a monopoly, but half of these voters thought that no one has been hurt. So far as what should happen was concerned, 17 per cent thought that Microsoft should be broken up, 11 per cent thought Microsoft should settle, two per cent thought that the government should oversee the company, 12 per cent thought Windows should be licensed, 15 per cent thought Microsoft should be fined, and 43 per cent thought nothing should change. Of course, we don't know what Mac users thought. ®

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