Microsoft's decision to make IE 8 the default browser on computers where the user elected an express installation has been queried by lawyers. The move raises questions about the software giant's compliance with a 6-year-old antitrust settlement, according to a lawyer for some of the plaintiffs in the case.

Microsoft recently has changed the way IE8 is installed as part of a high priority update, in response to concerns raised by other browser vendors and plaintiffs in the anti-trust case. But Steven Houck, a lawyer representing a group of states that sued Microsoft, called the company's actions "rather troubling," given that there were no default installation problems with IE7.

Microsoft linking IE to the Windows operating system was one of the major complaints in the antitrust lawsuit filed by a group of states and the US Department of Justice, Houck said during an antitrust settlement compliance hearing in US District Court for the District of Columbia. The change in the default settings also happened at a "particularly sensitive time," he added. "For the first time now, really, we're starting to see some not insignificant competition in that [browser] space."

Browsers are a more important piece of software that ever before, he added, as cloud computing becomes popular. Browsers are the way for users to interact with the cloud, he said.

Microsoft quickly agreed to change the IE8 settings after the complaints were raised in May, said Microsoft lawyer Charles "Rick" Rule. Microsoft believed it was giving customers a choice in default browsers when it included an option to set the default in IE8's custom install, he said, but the company has now changed the express install so that it asks users whether they want IE8 as their default browser.

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