Microsoft fixes Bing bug

New engine ticked off users when it hijacked IE6's search preferences

Microsoft today said it had fixed a bug in Bing that had infuriated Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) users when they discovered that the company's new search engine had hijacked their browsers.

"Last night, we corrected the issue with Bing on machines running IE6," a Microsoft spokeswoman said Wednesday in an brief e-mailed reply to questions.

Starting Monday, when Microsoft took Bing live, IE6 users began complaining that although they had previously set other search engines as the default, searches typed into the browser were instead directed to Bing.

"Woke up this morning to discover that Bing had hijacked [my IE6 address bar search]," said a user identified as "clmerc" on a Google help message forum. [I] can't change it via search/customize on the IE tool bar."

"Bing seems to have hijacked many user-programmed search preferences away from Google," echoed "Jimpobg" on another help thread. "Since I didn't know what Bing was, I really thought my computer was infected with malicious software. Well, actually....it WAS. Sounds like classic Microsoft behavior."

Microsoft's spokeswoman ignored Computerworld's questions about the root cause of the problem, but one user on the Google forum explained that IE6 uses a Windows registry key to parse unknown text, such as a search phrase, that's typed into the address bar. "The problem is, Microsoft developed their URL SearchHook to do one thing: Take the unknown text from the address bar and add it to the URL http://auto.search.msn.com/response.asp?MT=text+from+addressbar&srch=4&prov=gogl&utf8," said "Kilyo" on the same thread as clmerc. "But Bing stopped acknowledging [search] provider requests."

Some users were clearly unsympathetic, and blasted the complainers for running an ancient browser. "If you use IE6, you deserve as much pain and suffering as humanly possible," said someone labeled "positrongoo."

IE6 debuted in August 2001, about two months before Microsoft launched Windows XP. According to U.S-based metrics vendor Net Applications, IE6 accounted for 16.9% of all browsers used last month. Rival StatCounter, however, pegged IE6's share over the last 30 days at a slightly-higher 21.6%.

Microsoft may have agreed with positrongoo. Yesterday, when it first acknowledged that Bing had hijacked the search preferences of IE6, it urged users to ditch the old browser. "We apologize for any inconvenience [this] has caused," Microsoft said in a statement Tuesday. "In the meantime, we encourage customers to upgrade to IE8."

Today, Microsoft again implicitly pushed people to upgrade. "This issue did not impact IE7 and IE8 users," the company spokeswoman said.

A Google employee confirmed that Microsoft had, in fact, fixed the Bing bug. "We've been monitoring [this] very closely and are pleased that Microsoft is now reporting that the problem should be fixed," said "Jaime" early Wednesday on the two Google help forums. "If anyone is still having this problem, I'd very much appreciate your posting here to let me know."

As of late Wednesday, no one had stepped forward on the threads to report they were still seeing Bing rather than their preferred provider.

Net Applications noted that Bing surged to a 6% share of the search market within hours of going live, but said most of its traffic came at the expense of Microsoft's legacy search engines, MSN's search and Windows Live Search. Both of those services now automatically process search requests using Bing.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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