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Microsoft rejiggers EU browser ballot after complaints

Random choices now random

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Microsoft has updated the algorithm used to generate the browser ballot screen it's pushing out to certain Windows users in the European Union, after some complained that the ostensibly random ballot was far from random.

As part of a deal with the European Commission, which was investigating antitrust complaints against the company, Redmond is now asking EU Windows users which browser they'd prefer. The new ballot screen began appearing around March 1, and soon afterwards IBM's Rob Weir - a longtime Microsoft critic - complained that the screen was favoring some browsers over others.

But over the weekend, after some retesting, Weir announced that Microsoft had updated its algorithm and that the screen was producing truly random choices. In a statement tossed to The Reg, Microsoft acknowledges the change.

"We can confirm that we made a change to the random icon order algorithm in the browser choice screen for Europe," reads the canned statement from Kevin Kutz, director of public affairs for Microsoft. "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."

The company did not immediately respond to our questions about when exactly the change was rolled out and whether the change was made in response to criticism from the likes of Weir. In his latest blog post, Weir merely says that the change happened sometime last week.

Weir's testing of the original algorithm showed that Chrome was more likely to receive the first spot on the ballot, to the far left, and that Internet Explorer was far more likely to receive the fifth and last spot on the far right.

Microsoft is pushing the ballot screen out to users via Windows Update. It appears on machines where Internet Explorer is the default browser. The EC's investigation was sparked after browser maker Opera complained that Microsoft was unfairly bundling Internet Explorer with its market-dominating desktop operating system. ®

Update

Microsoft has confirmed that the change went out "last week", but did not get more specific.

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