Richard Waters Holding Microsoft’s feet to the fire on IE8

A deliberate attempt to use its desktop dominance to protect its browser market share, or an inadvertent glitch that might have had the unintended side-effect of hurting rivals?

Whichever way you look at it, the anti-trust regulators aren’t giving Microsoft an inch in the browser wars that are now raging.

From Tuesday, anyone who uses a non-Microsoft browser on their PC, and who installs IE8,  will be presented with a very clear prompt asking them if they want to make this their default browser (see image after the break). The same will happen for people in future who upgrade to Windows 7.

Microsoft said last month that it would do this, conceding at the time that its previous installation procedures were not clear and might have led some people to choose IE8 as their default browser without intending to (we wrote about the issue back in May).

Now comes news that US state regulators had a hand in the way this unfolded.

In a little-noticed, largely technical report at the end of last week, the regulators said they were “concerned that the… [browser installation] process was confusing, especially for unsophisticated users,” and that Microsoft agreed to make its change “after discussions” with the states. (If you have an account with the PACER online service the relevant filing is here – otherwise, it should soon be available on this Microsoft website.)

Microsoft stressed that the change was made after it got feedback from a number of different quarters. Still, when the regulators show interest it does tend to sharpen the mind.