IE8 setup concessions spring from complaints to U.S. antitrust officials

Microsoft to change IE8's setup process tomorrow; Mozilla, Opera protested default browser hijacking

Microsoft Corp.'s July announcement that it would change IE8's installation process was sparked by a complaint filed with U.S. antitrust officials, the company said.

In one of the regular status reports filed with U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Microsoft, the Department of Justice and state antitrust watchdogs said that Microsoft's modifications to IE8 emanated from a May complaint.

"May of 2009, the State Plaintiffs and the [Technical Committee] received a complaint, and observed published reports, regarding how the most recent version of Internet Explorer ('IE'), IE 8, was being installed on PCs running Windows XP and Vista," according to the report to Kollar-Kotelly, who oversees Microsoft's compliance with a 2002 antitrust settlement the company struck with federal and state antitrust agencies.

The report didn't name the companies or groups that complained, but in early May, both Opera Software and Mozilla Corp., makers of the Opera and Firefox browsers respectively, had carped about how Microsoft offered IE8 to customers running the older IE6 and IE7 editions.

Opera and Mozilla accused Microsoft of hijacking users' default browser settings when it pushed the IE8 upgrade via Windows Update. In May, Microsoft defended the practice, saying that, "users continue to have complete control over IE8 settings and behavior throughout the first-run experience and ongoing use."

Last month, however, Microsoft reversed itself and said it would alter the IE8 installation process so that its browser did not replace a PC's default browser when a user selects the already-checked "Use express settings" option in the setup screen.

Computerworld and analysts linked the move to continued pressure by EU antitrust officials. Today, however, it was clear that the decision had been prompted, at least in part, by filings with U.S. regulators.

"We got feedback from a variety of people and groups that indicated we needed to make the [IE8 installation] procedure simpler and clearer," Microsoft spokesman Kevin Kutz said today when asked if the Opera and Mozilla complaints in May had driven the change.

Opera spokesman Thomas Ford said he knew of no complaint his company had filed in the U.S, while Opera Chief Technology Officer Hakon Wium Lie added that his company has not been in contact with U.S. antitrust officials.

Mozilla also denied filing a complaint with federal and state regulators about Microsoft's previous handling of IE8 setup and installation.

In the status report delivered to Kollar-Kotelly last Friday -- a prerequisite for an Aug. 13 status conference -- Microsoft agreed to the IE8 installation changes and said it would make the modifications as of tomorrow to Windows XP and Vista. The changes would also be delivered to users who later this year install IE8 on Windows 7 or upgrade PCs to the new operating system.

Last month, Microsoft said it would not re-release IE8 to modify the browser's setup process, but instead would "use dynamic updates in order to deliver this change." Then, it scheduled those updates to occur around the middle of this month.

When the change is put into place, users who select "Use express settings," which is the first of the two setup choices, will next see a frame asking, "Do you want to make Internet Explorer your default browser?" Previously, that dialog box only showed up when users picked the "Choose custom settings" option during IE8 setup.

Tuesday is also Microsoft's monthly security patch day. Last Thursday, it warned customers that it was planning to issue nine vulnerability updates, five of them critical, to address eight problems in Windows and another in Office Web Components.

This wasn't the first concession on IE8 that Microsoft's made to regulators. Late last month, the company announced it would add a "ballot screen" to EU customers, letting them choose from at least five browsers, including IE8, Firefox, Opera, Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome, when they first boot a new PC.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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