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The offending "Express" setting, which some argue "tricks" users into resetting their default browser.  (Source: Beta News)
Microsoft's latest move is critiqued by the news community

The blogosphere is heating up over some some interesting options in the Internet Explorer 8 installation process.  Eager to spread its shiny next-generation browser, IE 8, to the masses, Microsoft has included an option which resets the user's default browser in what some argue is too subtle a manner.  The "Express" option during the IE 8 install is designed to make the install quicker and easier for novice users.  However it also contains what is coming as a surprise to some -- it make IE 8 the default browser, without a popup prompt or question screen (though it does mention this in the Express option's description, see the screen shot).

The move is garnering attention, as typically such important use decisions are left to the user via an independent dialog box.  Further, many simply are installing the browser out of curiosity, testing it, and then making the discovery that it has replaced Firefox as the browser used to open links and other such duties reserved for the default browser.

A Microsoft spokesperson, spoke with DailyTech and points out that similar options exist in Firefox's install process.  Further, she says, the option is clearly indicated with a text description.  "You are in control of which option you click," she states, adding, "We do believe Microsoft gives you the safest setting (for browsing).  That's why it's selected (as the default) in the 'Express' option."

It is apparent that the story is being overhyped slightly, as users who had their default overriden, would soon get a chance to fix it; almost all third party browsers (Firefox, Opera) to upon open prompt users to make them the default, if they are not the current default.  However, it may be significant as a certain number of users leave their computers on for days, with open browser applications.  An install of IE 8, for such users would equate to addition of traffic from email or document links to IE 8, until the user intervened to reset the default.  This could give Microsoft a small but significant boost in marketshare.

Microsoft's move echoes that of its competitor Apple, which last year drew ire for a prechecked install option for Safari, which came with in the update Window for iTunes.  While both methods may leave some feeling tricked, noteworthy differences, though, are that IE 8 does not precheck the "Express" option, and does not install any software that the user did not intend.

For those confused, in order to switch the back to Firefox as your default (assuming you use Firefox) you can start by closing all instances of Internet Explorer 8 (you can use the task manager to help you verify they're all dead).  Then you must open Firefox and click Tools, Options, then click the Advanced icon in the Options toolbar.  Under the General tab, make sure that "Always check to see if Firefox is the default browser on startup" is enabled.  Then click Check Now.  A dialog should now appear, confirm that you want Firefox as your default browser by clicking OK.

Or simply close all instances of the browser and reopen.  You should be prompted to reset the default, as mentioned (which many blogs are failing to note).

Similar steps can be used to restore Opera, Chrome, or Safari as your default browser, if you don't use Firefox.

DailyTech spoke with Håkon Wium Lie, Chief Technology Officer of browser-maker Opera.  He comments on the development, "We see it as problematic that Microsoft uses Windows Server Updates to reset user settings... Microsoft still behaves as a monopolist.  They use their Windows position to gain a dominant position in the browser market.

He encourages readers to follow the antitrust proceedings in European Union court, which DailyTech is covering.  Indeed, while the browser move may be overhyped and may not yield a noticable increase in marketshare for Microsoft, it may be a painful decision, as it gives Opera and Mozilla what they will argue is another example of Windows being used to boost IE, which they believe they can use against Microsoft in the proceedings.  Ultimately, whether Microsoft or Opera's views are correct is largely subjective and the tech community will have to ultimately weigh both arguments.

In the end, though its probably nothing to lose sleep over, the Washington Post reporter who first wrote on the issue has since followed up, "Okay, I'm partially responsible for this. When installing IE8, I chose Use express settings, which, among things, makes IE the default browser. It says so right in the setup window (see below), but I didn't pay close enough attention. Ironically, I usually opt for "custom/advanced" installations, but here I stopped reading after Search provider: Google. Anyway, for all intents and purposes, Microsoft did "ask" before making IE8 the default browser, just not in the usual way. My apologies for any confusion."




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