back to article Microsoft rejiggers EU browser ballot after complaints

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 …

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  1. Dunhill
    Flame

    criminals or just plain stupid?

    Are they at microsoft hardcore criminals or are they really just to stupid to create a little program without errors to make a simple program to create random choices and think that nobody will notice it ??

    LOOOOOOOSERS !!!!!!!!

  2. Kevin 6

    Stupid question

    Why didn't they just go in alphabetical order? Would be alot les confusing to users than random, and make more sence IMO.

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: criminals or just plain stupid?

      You might have missed the bit in the article where it says that Internet Explorer was far more likely to end up with the 5th and last spot, with Chrome at number one. The reason for this (if it was deliberate, which I doubt) would be to avoid the inevitable storm of criticism and accusations of bias should IE end up anywhere else other than last.

      So - criminals, unlikely. Plain stupid? Also unlikely. Loser? Somebody is, but in this case it's not Microsoft.

      1. Nuke
        Thumb Down

        That's Simplistic

        The leftmost icon, though the first, is not necessarily the most likely to be selected. For a right handed person the right hand side of the screen could be more natural.

        Actually, I tend to avoid the first things in lists if there is a choice.

        I'm not saying that it is deliberate on MS part, and I'm don't know if Rob Weir claims that either because I'm at work and my company IT people blacklisted his website from last week.

      2. CD001

        actually

        If you've ever placed an advert in a magazine you'd know that right-hand pages are more expensive than left... this is because as the eye (in Western civilisation) reads left to right the last thing you see is the furthest right and is therefore more likely to jump out at you or stick in the mind.

        The same holds true for UI design so I'd guess having IE appear in this far right spot would actually weight it favourably, slightly. (don't believe me, look at the post icons below and see if you spot the hand grenade first or Paris).

        Since you would have to deliberately tweak your "random" pattern to generate this behaviour I'd say it was unlikely to be accidental.

    2. Pandy06269

      But then...

      ... Opera would have yet another complaint because they'd be down the bottom end of the list while Chrome and IE would be higher.

    3. Eddie Edwards
      FAIL

      Software developers

      Yeah, I can picture the Microsoft meeting now.

      "I know, let's make it FAIL THE CHI-SQUARED TEST - that'll show those EU bastards what we're made of."

      Alternatively, MS may have just made the same kind of programming mistake that everyone else makes when dealing with random numbers.

    4. Nuke
      Headmaster

      The Aaaaaaaaaaaaaanswer to your Question is ..

      that you would get browsers called Aardvark and Aaardvark and Aaaardvark and Aaaaavark.

      Ever looked up the plumbing companies in Yellow Pages? In fact I avoid companies with names like that. I'd rather go for "Johnson & Son, est 1983, CORGI Registered". What jerk chooses a plumber just on the basis of having the most "a"s in their name?

      Years ago, I wrote a random number generator in BASIC for a version of the text-based game of Startrek. It wasn't very hard - C'mon Microsoft, you can do it!! I must send them my algorithm.

  3. Suntan
    FAIL

    FFS

    FFS. Thats all i think when I read about this bullshit browser ballot screen. Fucking EC. Do some real work. That is all.

  4. heyrick Silver badge

    Come on, does this matter?

    I mean, who the hell will load this utility over and over and over and over looking to see where the line-up of browsers goes? I think for the majority, they'd only see it once, so where each browser goes...

    1. Neoc
      Headmaster

      Statistics

      You're right, for each *individual* user it would not matter. However, it is known that human beings (as a group) favour certain physical locations. If you don't believe me, do a little research at your local supermarket as to which products are placed where on the shelves (and there's courses available on it). Real eye opener, so to speak.

      So yes - once you start dealing with masses of people, the actual placement of each option on the screen becomes *very* relevant.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        True, but...

        The placement of things is important, from supermarket shelves to a pleasing UI. It would appear to be that Microsoft appear to be favouring Chrome by more often placing it on the left where it will be seen first (odd, given the Bing/Google tensions) and they at least put their browser on the right. Or should we complain because if the "go" button is on the right then it is closest? Despite reading, naturally, from the left? Whatever is done, somebody will be unhappy with it.

        It would be more balanced (and a heck of a lot simpler) for it to be proper-random, but... sorry... I still think this is something of a non-event. Feel free to downvote me some more. :-)

  5. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Glad to see

    Our EU taxes being spent so well...

    what Load of bollocks

    we need an epic fail icon for this.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    what are you lot talking about?

    @dunhill, what are you talking about, I can not understand anything of what you wrote?

    @suntan, yep they could do something better than this, but still, its giving people a choice now.

    @heyrick, its not about loading the utilitiy over and over again, its about providing a random ordered list to the user. Before it was in a fixed order, with IE, firefox, chrome, opera and safari shown and the rest of the unknown browsers needing to be scrolled to. Now it will be a random list, so no single browser should get one of the top 5 spots for everyone.

    1. Andrew Baines Silver badge
      Gates Halo

      so no single browser should get one of the top 5 spots

      I think you'll find it's just the order of the top 5 that's changed. How confusing would it be for a user to be presented with a list of 5 unknown browsers?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Title

      Before asking what everone else is talking about try reading the article. The browser options were not in a fixed order before. The first screen shows popular browsers (and therefore browsers likely to be well supported and a good choice for normal users) in a random order. If you scroll you then get a list of less popular browsers (no idea if the order of those is random or not, and don't really care).

      The issue was that the random placement of the popular browsers was not random enough, and, unless I'm very much mistaken, this is what they have 'fixed'.

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge
      Troll

      Oi, dickhead!

      None of anybody's taxes are being spent on this. Actually as the Commission fined Microsoft for their anti-competitive behaviour, we all made money on the thing.

  7. Andrew Baines Silver badge
    Gates Halo

    And apple too?

    So will a similar screen appear on Mac OS X?

    What if MS release a cut down OS that's just a browser? Or has someone thought of that already and called it Chrome?

    Why is the EU wasting my money on battle from 15 years ago?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Why is the EU wasting my money on battle from 15 years ago?

      Because you're not supposed to just shrug your shoulders and let them get away with it - for whatever reason. And it hasn't been 'fixed' yet. Companies were driven out of existence by Microsoft for the dominance they still enjoy today, not by providing a superior product but by stacking the deck. Frankly _anyone_ who lets that pass is too weak for sympathy. A bit like East Enders still supporting the Krays as in some way ethical.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Harry

        Apple have driven companies out of business too - remember when they allowed the manufacture of clone Macs? Then decided that they would rather not allow that after all?

        1. Frank Bough
          Unhappy

          In THAT case

          ... the cloners were rapidly driving APPLE out of business. Something had to give.

        2. The BigYin

          Whilst I agree...

          ...Apple are not in a monopoly position on desktop PCs. MS are.

          There is a stronger case to call Apple a monopoly in the Smartphone/Portable Media Player arena; but there is still probably enough competition for them to duck it there too.

          MS, however, ARE a monopoly and this is why they come in for so much stick.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @Frank

            Ah, yes, they invited competition then, when it was too good, took their toys away so noone else could play.

            I understand that Apple were having trouble with the competition, but the "screw everyone else" approch wasn't good. IBM managed to open its PC architecture without going out of business and Apple still had the OS on top of the hardware.

            All I'm saying is that Apple aren't exactly whiter than white when it comes to their treatment of competetors.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    Maybe...

    Micro$oft should introduce a ballot screen at the start of each installation that allows you to install Linux (all flavors), OSX, or Windoze, obviously in a random order.

    Freedom of choice is important, you know !

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Antitrust complaints to EU

    Obviously Google need to make some complaints to the EU regarding Microsofts Browser Choice algorithm since Microsoft hold a monopoly over the browser choice market due to said algorithm not allowing fair competition in people increasing their share of browser choice screens.

    /Ok, I'll get my coat. Mines the one with Firefox in the left pocket, Safari in the right and Opera singing its ad-filled way in the top.

  10. Steve Walker
    Unhappy

    Who cares?

    I wonder who actually gives a fuck what browser appears where on the ballot box and in fact that you see a ballot screen anyway?

    I would imagine 99.9% (random number) of people who have a computer from PC world or argos or a club book or where ever don't even know there are other browsers or in fact even care about the fact.

    If Miss Smith can get to facebook and yahoo mail then I am pretty sure Miss Smith is happy and that little 'e' on the desktop suits her fine.

    Then we have Jo Nerdboy Freetard who likes to know that ButtsnifferMemoryHogNoFlash v.98pre-alpha will be on some ballot pop up screen because he feels the 'e' is getting tooooooo powerful and will one day lead to him going blind or whatever, well that's just spiffy for Jo Nerdboy Freetard.

    Me I just don't give a flying ass poke with a cactus, I just install whatever I think will do. If the 'e' works so be it, if the 'fox happens to be clicked then that's fine to.

    What next a ballot screen on notepad? Or the bloody calculator?

    Just ranting, had to queue a lot this morning :-(

    1. Ian Brown
      Coat

      Re: Maybe

      @Peter R. 1

      >Micro$oft should introduce a ballot screen at the start of each installation that allows you to install Linux (all flavors), OSX, or Windoze, obviously in a random order.

      That would be great, any ideas how to persuade Jobs to let us install OSX on our wintels and also apply the ballot screen to all his macintoshes and ipads.

      ps we still haven't got an ODFO icon, please.

    2. The Indomitable Gall

      For the last time...

      The reason that this is a problem is that Internet Explorer has a very poor record on standards compliance.

      The dominance of Windows leads to a dominance of IE, precisely because of the "don't care" crowd.

      The dominance of IE (not standards compliant) leads to coding of sites for IE, leading to lock-out of other browsers.

      If IE was free for all platforms, this would not be a problem.

      However, IE is not available for PS3, Wii, Symbian, Linux, etc etc etc, and this means that IE dominance perpetuates the tying of the internet to Windows PCs.

      Mobile technology has made great leaps in recent years, and home TVs are now of a sufficient resolution to cope with a rich browsing experience. Ubiquitous internet is finally becoming a reality, but it is not to Microsoft's commercial benefit to allow this to happen -- WinCE failed to make a solid dent in the set-top-box market, and DTV and Blu-ray technology have introduced an MS-free software stack into the living room. Windows Mobile can ape much of the non-compliant functionality of full fat Windows, so why encourage people to use iPhones, Android phones and the like?

      The ballot screen is a clumsy hack, but it is necessary to allow the internet to break free from the desktop and realise its full potential.

      1. Adam 10
        Thumb Up

        Finally!

        Finally, someone who can explain valid reasons for this without resorting to angry fanboi-isms!

        I use Internet Exploiter because I find that has the best compatibility with the web (not with the web STANDARDS... I'm talking about ACTUAL web sites that exist on the web).

        1. Steven Knox
          Boffin

          Examples?

          "I use Internet Exploiter because I find that has the best compatibility with the web (not with the web STANDARDS... I'm talking about ACTUAL web sites that exist on the web)."

          I keep hearing this, but the only sites I've ever seen that don't work well with, say, Firefox and Opera, are ones that do a crappy job of browser sniffing and hence provide the wrong data -- and if they got that wrong, what else have they managed to stuff?

          All of the sites I need (or want) to use work well with the various standards-based browsers. Can you provide some specific examples of useful sites that don't work except with IE?

          On the lighter side, several sites I've visited recently see Opera as a "mobile" browser - even the desktop version - and provide a cut-down, simplified version of their site. At first I was upset, but then I visited their actual site using IE, and quickly went back to the mobile site on Opera: much more useful, much less crap.

  11. jon 77

    :O some are just too lazy to scroll!!!

    and think of the dumbasses.... I am sure you have a mate somewhere that thinks a good way to 'make it work' is to switch it on & off 5 times..... <shock>

    Yes I am a member of a browser forum, for windows, linux, mac, solaris, mobile, winmobile, symbian, and many blogs....

    the 'browser' section is at the top, and no-one seems to go to the others!! they dont know they exist, due to the need to scroll to see them... yes, THAT is how dumb peeps are getting!!!!!

    the other blinkered section lives only in blogs using a RSS feed... and always complain about NOT getting the warnings that are plainly visible if you look at the web page!!!

  12. Milkfloat

    Great!

    Great, so now i will get support calls from friends and family that have instaleld some random half arsed browser because it was first in the list. I cannot wait for the fun to start.

    1. Magnus_Pym
      Thumb Down

      Or...

      Maybe you will stop getting calls from friends and family that installed the default half arsed browser/attack vector because they 'clicked on something' and got pwned.... again.

    2. DJV Silver badge

      @some are just too lazy to scroll

      Actually, some people are too STOOPID to realise they CAN scroll.

      A few years ago I was nearly wetting myself laughing whilst listening to a colleague on the phone to a brain dead customer who couldn't understand the concept of scrolling down a web page. My colleague was most patient but it did take several long minutes before the clueless tw@t on the other end of the line finally got the hang of using a scroll bar.

      Never underestimate the depths to which human stupidity can reach!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @DJV

        Hmm. Looking at my dictionary, I see scroll as a verb refers to rolling paper up like a scroll or decorating things with scrolls. It's an early 80s edition, so scroll in the computer context hadn't become so widely used. Since your 'clueless tw@t' sounds as if he was new to computers, he was probably working on those definitions. I'm surprised you geniuses didn't take less than 'several long minutes' to try putting it in other terms, rather than just repeatedly talking about scrolling. Vocabulary lmited, is it? Sorry - wordiness not big?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    impressive

    if they actually have managed to make them completely random.

    Most "psudo" random number generators are repeatable, give them the same seed and you get the same sequence. They probably did something stupid like hardcode a seed value and have it constantly reset the pattern.

    1. BatCat
      Boffin

      Computers can't do random

      You beat me to it. It's impossible for computers to generate random numbers. They can generate complex sequences, but they're not random.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        counterexample: /dev/random

        Computers encounter physical randomness on their inputs all the time. These can be used to get true randomness rather than the pseudorandomness you're talking about.

        http://www.kernel.org/doc/man-pages/online/pages/man4/random.4.html

    2. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge
      Boffin

      I'd be very impressed indeed.

      Generating a non-deterministic outcome from deterministic inputs is logically impossible, so if they have a _truly_ random number generator, free limitless energy, practical interstellar travel and world peace can't be far behind!

    3. Ken Hagan Gold badge
      FAIL

      Re: impressive

      "They probably did something stupid like hardcode a seed value and have it constantly reset the pattern."

      Well if you (and others, to judge from these comments) had followed the link in the article and read the blog where the problem was explained in great detail, you'd know what they'd done.

      I know, but I'm not telling. Bwuhahaha!

    4. Magnus_Pym

      Random is as random does

      I thought PGP used the users mouse movements to generate a random seed. not sure how this helps here but it could be considered random.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        unfortunatly

        I'm reading this at work, which prohibits access to blogs, not an uncommon occurence, so i will continue to guess at what they could have done wrong.

    5. Nuke
      Thumb Up

      That's Simple

      You fold in a non-PC generated number.

      You could count the clock ticks while the user reacts to some prompt, like when they were asked to type their password. You take some low end bits from that number and use them as the seed for the random number generator.

      No-one is going to be consistent in their reaction time to a microsecond.

  14. Ian Brown
    Pint

    Re: ODFO

    Sorry the ODFO reference was to the whole browser ballot thing, not to Peter R.1 personally.

  15. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Were they told

    it has to be a DIFFERENT random order for different users?

  16. Lewis Mettler 1
    Stop

    purchase of IE not random

    Of course the purchase of IE first is still mandated by the EU and the US DOJ.

    Fools purchase IE.

  17. Colin 29

    Multi User

    Anyone know how the ballot screen will work in a multi user setup. My home machine has 3 users configured, two of which have Firefox as the default browser, and one with IE. Will just the IE user be prompted to change browser or will none of the users be asked?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Unbundle Windows!

    How about a choice of operating system, EU, instead of all this larking around with choosing the saddle for the horse years after it left the stable? Or is this just a face-saving exercise so that various members of the Commission can hold back proper regulation of Microsoft with an eye to getting the monopolist to set up shop in their particular backwater?

    The only way to get Microsoft to respect standards is to make them compete. And the only way to have competition is to stop the tying of Windows to the overwhelming majority of computers sold via the major retail channels. (With those channels indulging in the usual collusion on pricing - another target for you there, regulators!)

    Give us proper choice for our money, EU!

  19. andrew mulcock
    Stop

    Update

    Does it matter ?

    As soon as you have to do the monthly windows update, IE has to be installed and updated to the latest version no mater what.

    So what are you balloting on ?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Now prepare for...

    The millions of tech-support complaints from people who 'lost their internet' and/or their bookmarks.

    Idea: make FF/Opera tech support actually take those calls!

  21. JP19
    Gates Horns

    The real problem

    The real problem is not that IE is bundled with Windoze. The real problem is the incestuous mess micoshit created which made IE part of windoze and the developers that went along with the idea.

    Parts of my (rather ancient ) Quickbooks accounting package which has FA to do with the internet do or don't work dependant on IE security settings for example.

    You install windoze you get IE want it or not.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      @Now prepare for..

      I think you will find Opera & FF import bookmarks just fine. As for "loosing their internet" just how hard is it to click on the icon you just asked to be installed?

      Even if that takes a call to someone they know who knows, longer term less of the machine being shagged is a definite plus point.

      Unless, of course, you think IE is actually a good browser?

  22. The Infamous Grouse
    Thumb Down

    Wrong rejiggering

    Personally I think Microsoft need to concentrate not on the browser icon order, but on making the initial pop-up look more like a professional, integrated part of the operating system and less like a hastily thrown together Eastern European phishing scam.

  23. Mark 164
    Gates Horns

    Tried the non-JS version?

    I'm really surprised no-one's mentioned this anywhere yet. I've certainly not heard anyone complaining anyway.

    Turn off JavaScript, have a look at the browser ballot page and prepare to be utterly shocked at the order you see!

    http://www.browserchoice.eu

    Mind you, you maybe have to assume that anyone with the wherewithal to disable JavaScript has probably also got a better browser installed, but that's not the point.

    1. Al Jones

      Missing Links?

      That's interesting - and the URLs that redirect to the various choices are more or less sequential, except for http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=166941 and http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=166942, which just redirect to Bing.

      I wonder what used to be on those links?

  24. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
    Boffin

    What is this obsession elReg has with titles

    "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,

    AhHa.... that must be the routine that also determines if security on windoze will work....

  25. Goat Jam
    Gates Horns

    OK

    Now all we need is a "Random OS choice" ballot screen at first boot and we will be set.

  26. MonkeyBot
    Gates Horns

    Right-side bias

    Am I being overly cynical to suggest that might be because the OK/Cancel buttons are normally in the lower-right corner and so the IE option will be closer to where the mouse is most likely to be hovering?

  27. Aye
    Thumb Down

    EU dump

    This bollots is stupid. EU even control how to display bollots. It is stupid

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