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Apple Sneaky, Microsoft is No Angel, Either

I’ve been observing an annoying trend on TechMeme for a while now: when a good discussion happens over the weekend, obviously some writers will miss it – then they sleep on it, come back to it a few days later and TechMeme picks it up as a new theme.

That’s what we’re seeing today with ZDNet blogger Ed Bott coming back to the Apple Update brouhaha and trying to place Microsoft on a morel higher ground.

In summary, the issue was that the Apple iTunes update program all of a sudden wanted to install the Safari browser on Windows PC’s and had it as the preselected default. That’s certified bad behavior. Even worse is the fact that it’s not new at all – a fact missed by almost all but yours truly. I pointed out that:

  • the same update program has been trying to install iTunes on a Windows machine where I don’t have it, don’t need it forever, despite unselecting it every single time
  • the update runs because I do have Quicktime installed, and Quicktime itself is as aggressive as it gets, re-installing itself in the XP systray no matter how many times you remove it.

To me this was all about respecting users choice or not. But the discussion went the “wrong way”:

  • Apple fans are a religious cult who came in hordes to defend Holy Apple. (before you chastise me, just look at how often I point to Apple as a better choice, without becoming blindly faithful)
  • Most debate focused on whether Firefox or Safari is the better browser (IE dully ignored) – nice tactics to change the subject…

And now here comes Ed Bott with a provocative title: What Microsoft can teach Apple about software updates:

For the record, I think Apple is dead wrong in the way it’s gone about using its iPod monopoly to expand its share in another market.

Right.

Ironically, an excellent model for how this update program should work already exists. It’s called Windows Update, and it embodies all the principles that Apple should follow.

Dead wrong.

I can’t believe anyone in their right mind would quote Windows Update, known for delivering patches that mess up one’s system only to be patched again and again as the ideal model to follow. One does not have to go too far, just look at the reports on systems disabled by the recent Vista SP1 update. The worlds richest company could not put a decent operating system together in five years, and a full year later the best they can deliver is a botched update!

But since Ed takes the opportunity to place Microsoft on the moral high ground in general, let’s not forget about another recent Microsoft update coup:

The windows live installer, released last September while offered an opt-out screen like Apple does now, then proceeded to install Windows Desktop Search, without ever asking for permission or even notifying the user.

Not only this was outrageously bad practice, completely ignoring the users right to decide what they want on their computers, it was also performance degrading, especially on systems that already had another desktop search installed (see system bar above).

So back to Ed Bott: yes, I condemn Apple’s latest move, but please, please, never in a million years would I think of setting Microsoft as the model to follow.

 

Update:  This window just popped up on my system:

Windows Firewall blocked Foldershare – a Microsoft product, which just got updated a few days ago. Only (?) problem is, I have (I should have) Windows Firewall turned off, since McAfee is installed, too.  WTF is this message?  Or has Win Firewall been turned on by some update, without asking me?   And why is it my job to investigate?

 

Related posts: Inner Exception, Tom Raftery’s Social Media and ParisLemon

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Microsoft: The Live Installer / WDS Invasion was Just the Rehearsal

Here’s a quick chronology:

  • Under the auspices of installing Live Photo Gallery, Microsoft installs their Desktop Search product on XP systems, without asking for user permission or even bothering to notify users. (for details, see previous posts listed below)
  • User uproar follows
  • Microsoft updates their Photo Live Gallery, and it no longer requires Windows Desktop Search.

Naive me, I welcome this as proof that Microsoft Listens, after all.

No, they don’t. All the above was just the rehearsal. The Real Invasion is happening now, under the disguise of Window Server Update Services, as reported by the Register:

“The admins at my place were in a flap this morning because Windows Desktop Search 3.01 had suddenly started installing itself on desktops throughout the company,” a Reg reader by the name of Rob informs us. “The trouble is that once installed, the indexer kicks in and slows the machines down.”

“I’m slightly pissed of [sic] at M$ right now,” an admin in charge of 3,000 PCs wrote in a comment to the first aforementioned link. “All the clients have slowed to a crawl, and the file servers are having problems with the load.”

Mea Culpa for my naivety. The Borg does not change.smile_zipit

My previous stories on the invasion (and more):

Other Related posts: Sadjad’s space, David and David Arno’s Blog. Of course these are hard to find, TechMeme is full of reporting how the Borg kissed the Berg.

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Windows Desktop Search: Microsoft DOES Listen, After All

I wrote about the Windows Desktop Search controversy several times: in a nutshell, under the auspices of installing Live Photo Gallery, Microsoft installed their Desktop Search product on XP systems, without asking for user permission or even bothering to notify users.

I’m glad to report proof that in this case Microsoft listened to their customers (or their own lawyers?):

Windows Live Photo Gallery no longer requires WDS (Windows Desktop Search) to be installed on XP! Again, we heard the grumblings loud and clear, and took action! Once you have installed the update via Microsoft Update and have build 1299.1010 install

There’s more, most importantly ability to easily upload to Flickr, which is no small feat, considering Flickr is now a Yahoo property. I’m wish Google followed suit and enabled Picasa to Flickr uploads. (Hello! Anybody there?)

My previous stories on the WDS controversy:

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You Think You Own Your Computer? Think Twice. Microsoft Shows Who’s Boss.

So you think just because you paid for your computer you own it? Microsoft apparently disagrees … just look at these events all within a week:

Desktop Search

The New Universal Windows Live Installer puts more than what you expect on pre-Vista systems: it installs Windows Desktop Search without prompting for user consent, or even just letting users know. The argument from several Microsofties is that Live Photo Gallery, part of the new live bundle needs Desktop Search to run. So what? Desktop Search is not some auxiliary DLL, it’ s a fundamental piece of your PC infrastructure, which should have been an organic part of the OS, but in lieu of working Windows-level search, several companies developed competing solutions, including Yahoo, Google and Copernic. Running two desktop searches in parallel brings about major performance degradation so the the choice as to which one to use is a major decision to be made by the user, not Microsoft. Incidentally, this is at the very core of the recent Google vs Microsoft kerfuffle, which forced Microsoft to make changes to Vista – announcing those changes the very same days it started leaving turd on non-Vista machines.

Black Screen of Death

Next came the Vista Black Screen of Death: according to e leaked email Microsoft activated a scheme in Vista, which essentially renders pirated copies useless:

  • A black screen after 1 hour of browsing
  • No start menu or task bar
  • No desktop

I can almost accept this. After all, piracy is illegal. There is only the small issue of WGA failing regularly, labeling 100% legal systems “pirated”. You can have your entire system knocked out, due to a WGA error. Fortunately this news turned out to be a hoax – or is it? Only to the extent that the “Reduced Functionality” function has not been activated – yet. It exists, and may come any day.

Stealth Updates

The Stealth Windows Update issue followed the typical pattern. Somebody discovers Windows is updating on files despite the auto-update feature being turned off. Microsoft comes back with a semi-technical explanation:

…why do we update the client code for Windows Update automatically if the customer did not opt into automatically installing updates without further notice? The answer is simple: any user who chooses to use Windows Update either expected updates to be installed or to at least be notified that updates were available. Had we failed to update the service automatically, users would not have been able to successfully check for updates and, in turn, users would not have had updates installed automatically or received expected notifications. That result would not only fail to meet customer expectations but even worse, that result would lead users to believe that they were secure even though there was no installation and/or notification of upgrades. To avoid creating such a false impression, the Windows Update client is configured to automatically check for updates anytime a system uses the WU service, independent of the selected settings for handling updates…

Let me get this straight:

  1. Customer selects no auto-update.
  2. Microsoft decides it is in customers best interest to update anyway.
  3. Not overwriting the customer’s decision would fail to meet expectations.

Makes sense? BS. Or, as ZDNet puts it more politely: Microsoft dodging the real stealth update issues. Update (9/27): Stealth Windows update prevents XP repair

Windows Messenger Forced Update

This is probably less sinister than the others… a Microsoft Product Manager post about upgrading to Messenger 8.1:

We will soon configure the service such that any user on Windows XP or later system has to use Windows Live Messenger 8.1. When a user using an older version of Messenger tries to login, the client will help the user with a mandatory upgrade to Messenger 8.1. Some of you might feel this inconvenient, but in order to protect you and protect the health of the network we have chosen to take this step.

I understand it is for security reasons, but again, it’s the old formula: User decides not to upgrade, Microsoft knows what’s better for the user, so enforces it’s will. No wonder it’s not a popular decision.

I can already hear the argument that these are all isolated events, have nothing to do with each other.. but frankly, from a consumer standpoint they all add up. As if someone in Redmond decided they are not getting customer-love anyway, with their reputation being so bad, they might as well go for the full Monty: show those whining customers who the Boss is around here. And they wonder why consumers are flocking to Apple.

Update: eWeek’s title says it all: What the Hell Is Microsoft Doing with My Computer?

Update (9/23): Robert Scoble asks: Why doesn’t Microsoft get the love?

My take: just look at the examples above. There are a lot more. They all show a corporate culture that does not have the customer in focus. It’s hard to love such a company, no matter how great many of the individual employees are.

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The Ongoing Windows Desktop Search Controversy

Windows Desktop Search continues to stir controversy, in several ways.

Desktop Search Bundled with Vista

Back in June Microsoft agreed to make changes to the way it bundles Search with Vista. This was largely due to Google’s claim that:

Microsoft’s hardwiring of its own desktop search product into Windows Vista violates the final judgment in this case.

While I’m clearly no fan of Vista (and Microsoft, for that matter), in this case I found myself on the ‘wrong side’ – i.e. siding with Microsoft (the sky is falling, the sky is falling!).

Here’s the problem: there really should not be a product named Desktop Search . Only desktop Find – and not a product. Being able to retrieve whatever I myself placed on my hard disk should be a fundamental feature of the computer – and that means the Operating System. The fact is, for two decades Microsoft has failed to deliver this capability miserably and that opened up an opportunity for others, be it Google, Yahoo, or my personal favorite, Copernic. Now that Microsoft finally pulled their act together, and Vista has good, built-in search, let’s not complain about the operating system finally doing what it should have been doing in the first place.

In short, Google does not have a case here. A personal side-note: in the meantime I have opportunistically bought a Vista PC (not a pleasant experience), and since this beast has Vista Search built-in, I decided to NOT install Copernic Desktop Search. Not that the Vista version is better: it doesn’t have to be. I hate redundancy, and a competing product would have to be by orders of magnitude better for me to install a duplicate. Of course moving to Web applications made this decision a lot easier: after all what the desktop search capabilities are is becoming more and more irrelevant.

Windows Desktop Search Illegally Bundled on pre-Vista Systems

I found it more than ironic, in fact outrageous that in the very days Microsoft outlines the changes it plans to make to the desktop search feature in Windows Vista to satisfy antitrust concerns, it continues to dump its Desktop Search on XP systems without the users authorization – in fact without even telling users what’s happening.

Users who complain that the newly released Windows Live Installer comes with several options defaulted to “Yes” are missing the big picture: while the defaults may just be an inconvenience (OK, a trap), Windows Live Installer secretly installs Desktop Search on your XP system (Vista already has it). It is not listed anywhere as an option, you are not even warned what happens… you may just notice something funny in your taskbar after the installation:

Yes, that’s Windows Desktop Search, right next to Copernic Desktop Search, which was my choice on the XP system. Further search (Google, of course) reveals that one of the products, Windows Live Photo Gallery relies on Desktop Search. I am not going to argue the merits of this architecture, or Photo Gallery itself, but desktop search clearly isn’t just a component to gallery, it’s a basic piece of my desktop infrastructure. Running two searches is not only redundant, but clearly performance degrading, so at a minimum Microsoft should warn users about the consequences and ask for permission to proceed.

Of course this is not simply a performance issue: this practice is a blatant violation of my rights as the computer’s owner (I don’t recall Microsoft having paid for my PC, so I suppose I still own it). Frankly I am shocked, if this was 1995, I wouldn’t even be surprised, but after all the antitrust issues Microsoft faced, you’d think they learned a lesson… or not.

Additional reading: Microsoft Support, All about Microsoft, BetaNews, Ars Technica.

Update: Surprise, surprise! Microsoft changes Windows files on user PCs without permission, researchers say – reports Computerworld and Hardware 2.0. Also read: Windows Secrets, Today @ PC World, Inquirer, and Microsoft Watch

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Windows Live Installs More than it Tells You

Beware installing Windows Live Writer Beta 3” – warns Tom Raftery. He finds Microsoft’s default of swithching to Live Search and installing a bundle of software outrageous.

If only he knew that if gets a lot worse! Default are an annoyance, I kind of expect them – I consider all install programs booby-trapped, and actively look for what I have to “disarm”. But this time Microsoft crossed the line, going back to the old practice of installing software without even asking, what’s more without even telling the user anything about it.

If you look at my install choices, you can see I unchecked all selectable options:

The above were all selected as deafult, which is what ticked Tom off.

Again, unselected everything above, and I can clearly see the four programs to be installed (or so I think).

Now, let’s look at my Windows taskbar after the installation:

The red arrow points to.. none other but Windows Desktop Search, a program I did not select, was never listed, yet Live Installed sneaked it onto my computer. I clearly have not had it before, and don’t need it, since – as you can see – I already have Copernic Desktop Search installed.

Frankly, I was so shocked, I started to question myself… simply because in 2007 such agressive behavior is unthinkable, so I wondered if in fact there was a screen where I could have unselected it. To double-check, I went ahead and repeated the process on another PC – same results.

Apparently Microsoft doesn’t learn – they are just as agressive and ignorant as they were in the 90′s. The only difference is that now we have non-Microsoft alternatives.

Update: This could be a coincidence, but Firefox disappeared from my Quick Launch bar. IE7 is still there.

Update (10/18): Wow, Microsoft does listen, after all:

Windows Live Photo Gallery no longer requires WDS (Windows Desktop Search) to be installed on XP! Again, we heard the grumblings loud and clear, and took action! Once you have installed the update via Microsoft Update and have build 1299.1010 install you can uninstall WDS if you’re not using it with any other programs.

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Everything on this Vista PC is an Afterthought

OK, so I bit the bullet: after being so critical of Vista, I ended up buying a PC blessed cursed with this Operating System. Not that I changed my mind: I simply wanted an ergonomic desktop, for the times I’m stuck at the desk anyway. Costco had a fairly good promotional offer on a loaded super-duper-multimedia HP with this beauty of a display.

Well, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but this 22″ baby has beautiful colors, is fast and the most versatile I’ve seen – it can even pivot to portrait position – except I don’t know why I would want to do that, considering the software does not work, not even after the update.

But first things first: unpacking. This thing has a wireless keyboard and mouse, which is nice – but why on earth do I need to plug in a USB transmitter for them to work? This isn’t an after-market add-on, this configuration only comes with wireless. Talk about wireless, this being a desktop, my primary desktop connection will be via the LAN cable, but why does HP bundle another plug-in, a wireless antenna with this unit? (which, incidentally was missing from my package). Why not just build it in. OK, let’s move on: this whole multimedia center thingie (TV, DVR, remote) does not excite me a lot, but since it there, I will eventually figure out how to work it. But wait: for the remote to work, I have to … yes, you guessed it right, I have to plug-in yet another component, a wireless receiver.

I am not trying to expand the system: out-of-the-box, just to use the basic capabilities I have to plug-in three “extensions” that could very well have been built in. Are these features all afterthoughts? (And I haven’t even mentioned the jungle of cables into the monitor, including a USB connector to enable the two other USB ports on the side of the display).

The next two days were spent with installation, which primarily consisted of removing some of the junk software loaded by HP (I still could not get rid of the Yahoo Search-bar at the bottom!) and setting up my own stuff. I killed the 60-day Norton trial, not that McAfee is better, but it’s free with my Comcast subscription. Too bad it wouldn’t install. This turned out to be a case study on the worth of Customer Support:

  • Costco Concierge on the phone: after 4-5 minutes she is still stuck trying to spell my name – who has time for this? No way she can help me.
  • HP Online Support: quickly says the disclaimer that it’s not a HP product, so I should really go to the other vendor, but he will try to help anyway. Well, 8-10 minutes later he concludes I should go to Windows Safe mode for this install. Oh, boy. If I have to start safe-moding on a vanilla, out-of-the box machine, what else am I in for during the lifetime of this thing? I tell him I won’t do this exercise, will likely return the machine next day
  • McAfee Online Support: he is quite clueless, too, but has an interesting prospective: perhaps, despite the aborted installation (which I repeated 4 times, Control Panel-uninstall-reboot-install included) McAfee might actually be working properly on my machine. Although he didn’t seem to get the concept of corrupted (or missing files) and had no way to verify his idea, he still planted the bug in me, so later, on my own I found a McAfee diagnostic tool that verified that I have the correct setup on my system. So, perhaps I am protected. I guess that’s the definition of hopeware.

I will spare you the details of my two-day struggle with Vista, the fight with the idiotic permission-scheme, (can’t delete my own stuff), the incompatibilities, the fact that there’s less and less information to be found, other than from users – hey, even the User Manuals link points to nowhere… enough said already. After two days, I can use the system (the screen is beautiful) but I’m far from done.

I’m starting to see how this supposedly good deal will turn out to be more expensive then a matching Mac. The funny sad thing is, I myself talked about this, describing the $1,500 iPhone: it’s the cost of my own time.smile_sad . This whole Vista-Microsoft-HP-Dell-you-name-it enchilada is anything but user friendly, a pain to work with. In fact, “work” is the operational word here: I don’t want to work setting up this thing, I just want to use it. Perhaps Steve Jobs and co. are turning a disadvantage into an advantage: they are not the darlings of the corporate market.. so they have to focus on individual users, who don’t have an IT department to support them. That means they are just turning out usable, friendly boxes.

Oh, talk about boxes, Joel Spolsky has a hilarious post today: Even the Office 2007 box has a learning curve, discussing Office 2007′s fancy box (which is the same design Vista comes in):

…I simply could not figure out how to open the bizarre new packaging.
…It represents a complete failure of industrial design; an utter F in the school of Donald Norman’s Design of Everyday Things.
…It seems like even rudimentary usability testing would have revealed the problem. A box that many people can’t figure out how to open without a Google search is an unusually pathetic failure of design.

Chris Pirillo responds: Windows Vista Isn’t for Developers?

Hm, now I really don’t know what to think. All this while I’ve been making the point that Vista is not for earthly users; now Chris makes the point it’s not for developers, either. So, who exactly is Vista meant to be for?

Update: How timely… read Raju, a Mac Convert’s testimony: Windows (Dell) to Mac: Thats a smooth ride. Damn. I have 90 days (Costco’s return policy) to make up my mind. But even if I take the smooth ride, no-one is paying for my wasted time….

Update #2: I’m speechless… but Vista has just given me another proof that’s it’s not meant for *users*. Here’s am error window:

Windows decided to mess with Firefox, without telling me, the owner of the computer what it did. OK, let’s click on the link, perhaps it tells us what happened:

What changes does it make?

It depends on the problem, but any changes made are related to how Windows runs the program.

blahblahblah … but it gets better:

How do I turn it off or turn it back on?

Adjustments to the Program Compatibility Wizard can be made by using Group Policy. For more information on how to use Group Policy, go to the Microsoft website for IT professionals.

So let’s get this straight: Vista makes changes to my system, to the most important program I use, Firefox, without asking me, without telling me what those changes were, how to undo them. And if I want to prevent such aggression in the future, I should go to the “IT Professionals” site.

Well, I won’t. A computer sold at Costco, BestBuy, Fry’s ..etc is a Consumer Device. I am a Consumer. This Operating System is NOT for consumers. Microsoft (via HP) sold me garbage.

I can’t wait for the Vista related Class Action cases.

Update: I think I’ll try this tweaky-thingy recommended at WebWorkerDaily.

Update (8/23): Dell must share my views of Vista, or in fact Windows in general, having shipped this laptop without any OS at all ;-)

Update (8/23): Even a 6-year-old knows better… he is right, my next PC will be an Apple. And since I’m already doing most of my work on the Web, the transition won’t be a big deal.

OK, this is too much of a coincidence (or not?): when I described Microsoft Money as a showcase for what’s wrong with Microsoft’s Software + Service concept, Omar Shahine, a Microsoft employee responded – he experienced very similar problems. And what am I reading today on Omar’s blog? It’s been a bad month for Vista.