That wasn't supposed to happen: IE usage share steady since choice screen

The window of opportunity may be closing for the first test of government mandated fairness and equal choice among Web browsers, with neutral results.
There are a number of studies recently that say computer users in general have a tendency to automatically distrust notices that pop up on their screen. More attention was paid to those studies since last March, after Microsoft's deployment of Internet Explorer 8 over Windows Update was followed by a general downtrend in IE usage, interrupted by a brief respite in early October, according to global tracking data from analytics vendor StatCounter.

If what Microsoft's security representatives have said is true -- that the key window for adoption of an update or patch usually comes a few days after Patch Tuesday -- then StatCounter's tracking data for IE usage in Europe could count as sweet revenge. Since Microsoft deployed its browser choice screen for European users, in compliance with European Commission directives, on March 1, StatCounter reports European usage share for all versions of Internet Explorer has stayed steady at about 46.6%, with negligible gains since the beginning of the month.

This while Mozilla Firefox continues an unusual decline of about two points of European usage share since the first of the year, and relative newcomer Google Chrome ticks up at about one point per month.

So far, Internet Explorer 6 usage remains rock solid at 6.37% as of yesterday, tied with Chrome 4 in usage share for Europe. This as the adoption rate of Firefox 3.6 among former users of version 3.5 has tapered off somewhat. Worldwide usage share of IE6 continues to decline at the almost invisible rate of a tenth of a point per week.

Thus far, there's no indication from StatCounter's charts that the browser screen has impacted the usage rate of any browser on the continent, one way or the other. The trends that had been in place, including the tapering off of Firefox 3.6 adoption, appear to be continuing.

Anyone looking for a technical reason for this lack of a trend may not be able to point to faulty algorithms anymore. In recent days, Microsoft implemented a fix to the randomization of browser choices on its Web site, in response to a discovery that was validated last week by IBM's Rob Weir, that the JavaScript function Math.random used by IE wasn't shuffling browsers' positions fairly. The revised code now clearly employs a random shuffling algorithm, which creates arrays of pointers that exchange places with one another like shuffling cards -- an alternative that Weir and others had suggested.

As Weir posted on Saturday, Microsoft's revised code is now about as fair as it gets, with each of the top five browsers getting 20% placement, plus or minus only a few thousandths of a point. As a suggestion for the future, Weir pointed out the irony of searching for proper programming methodologies using, ironically, Google Search.

"Several commenters mentioned that if you search Google for 'javascript random array sort,' the first link returned will be a JavaScript tutorial that has the same offending code as Microsoft's algorithm. This is not surprising," Weir wrote. "As I said in my original post, this is a well-known mistake. But it is no less a mistake. If you use Google Code Search for the query "0.5 - Math.random()" lang:javascript you will find 50 or so other instances of the faulty algorithm. So if anyone else is using this same algorithm, they should evaluate whether it is really sufficiently random for their needs. In some case, such as a children's game, it might be fine. But know that there are better and faster algorithms available that are not much more complicated to code."

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