Microsoft to change default browser installs

Software vendor tells an antitrust judge it will change the way IE 8 is installed

Microsoft, in response to complaints that Internet Explorer 8 was being designated as the default browser during some installations, will change the installation process starting this week, the software giant told a U.S. district judge.

By Tuesday, Microsoft will change the way the express install works for Internet Explorer (IE) 8, the company said in an antitrust settlement compliance report released late Friday.

In May, browser makers Mozilla and Opera complained that Microsoft was quietly changing the default browser back to Internet Explorer when the browser was updated with Microsoft's Windows Update service.

"Using the Windows Update channel to update Internet Explorer in any way that undermines user choices is a clear example of how Microsoft uses its monopoly position to damage competition in related products," Mitchell Baker, the chairwoman of Mozilla, said in May.

Options presented to Windows users were "unclear," the U.S. Department of Justice said in the antitrust status report.

"The Express option is most often selected by unsophisticated users who would then lose their prior default selection of a non-Microsoft browser," the DOJ said in the report.

"Even though it was possible for the user to revert to the original default browser, [the state plaintiffs in the antitrust case] were concerned that the Express process was confusing, especially for unsophisticated users."

Instead of the express install reverting to IE as the default browser, the IE installation will now have a default browser screen before the express install that offers "the user a clear choice with respect to the browser default setting," the report said.

A Microsoft spokesman wasn't immediately available for comment.

The antitrust status report also addressed a long-time complaint about problems with technical documentation for communication protocols that Microsoft is required to share as part of the November 2002 antitrust judgment imposed by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Lawyers for the 19 states that joined the DOJ in the antitrust lawsuit have complained that bugs in the technical documentation have been discovered faster than Microsoft can close them.

The number of documentation bugs led Kollar-Kotelly to extend portions of the antitrust decree by two years in a November 2007 ruling. In April, the judge extended compliance monitoring by another 18 months, until May 2011.

But in Friday's report, the plaintiffs in the case said they are seeing positive signs regarding Microsoft's [bug] resolution rate.

A court-appointed technical committee assisting Microsoft with antitrust compliance should be able to determine whether the technical documentation is "substantially complete," a requirement in the antitrust decree, by the end of the year, the report said.

As of June 30, there were 2,407 outstanding bugs in the technical documentation, and there were 2,355 bugs as of July 31. On March 31, there were 1,716 identified bugs in the 30,000-page technical documentation.

An antitrust compliance hearing is scheduled for Thursday before Kollar-Kotelly.

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Grant Gross

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