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


Windows Live Photo Gallery: Poor Design or Shrewd Business Move?

I had Windows Live Photo Gallery installed on my computer – for about 15 minutes. Although I despise the aggressive, sneaky nature of Live Installer, which pollutes my PC with Windows Desktop Search without authorization, I still wanted to give it a try, primarily because my favorite Picasa is hopelessly single PC-minded. Surprisingly for Google, the champion of Web-based computing, Picasa is a major pain to use on multiple computers – so I thought I’d give the Microsoft product a try.

I am surprised at the mostly positive initial feedback about this feature-less product. Yes, it’s fast, yes, tagging is easy – but has anyone given any thought to why we’re tagging in the first place? Other than becoming data-input clerks, what can you do with Photo Gallery?

Picasa treats tags/labels as albums, and as any decent photo album would do, allows re-arranging the display order of individual photos by simple drag & drop. It also allows playing slideshows along with music, creating movies and a myriad of other options. Windows Live Photo Gallery allows you to play a slideshow in the pre-determined order – that’s all.

Well, almost. If you publish your photos to Live Spaces, you can create a basic slideshow rearranging the display order of your pictures. (I could not find this option, but let’s believe the Help text.) Now I’m really confused: as much as I am a Web-computing fan, photos (and video) are the one area I still prefer to use a local machine for, after all we’re manipulating fairly large files. So why would Microsoft create desktop photo manipulation software that allows extensive data input yet requires users to go online to enjoy their pictures?

Is this another case of thoughtless, poor design? Frankly, I doubt it. Perhaps Microsoft just showed their hands regarding the future Live business model. Charging for extra storage is nothing new, but I suspect we’ll see bandwidth-based pricing sooner or later. The PC-components of Live are just the hook to get us online, and pay for accessing our own data – and believe me, the bandwidth usage of a 20-minute slideshow will be quite significant. Surprised


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.


Still Confused about Windows Live

Ever since it’s inception the Windows Live brand was a source of confusion: is it web-based computing, new desktop tools, or just a fancy name for MSN services? The confusion apparently continues even as The New York Times heralds Microsoft Windows Live, which is to receive a new unified installer this week as a major move to “Cloud Computing”. “The empire is preparing to strike back” – a clear reference to Google.. don’t you just love the illustration?

Whether this is a Google-killer move or not (personally I doubt it), I welcome any major player’s move to the Cloud. I’ve been a long-time advocate of on-demand computing, which got only reinforced by the painful experience of adding a third PC to the household. Trying to keep three computers (and two operating systems) in sync is a major nightmare, and ironically some of the Windows Live components come to my rescue, exactly because they are not in the cloud .

Foldershare is a very handy tool that keeps several PC’s in sync. Configuring your folders to be synchronized takes places on the Web, but the actual synchronization process is P2P, in fact in a local network your data typically stays behind the firewall throughout the entire process. It’s not magic though, as sometimes it fails to synchronize, and leaves only placeholder *.p2p files. Too bad it never tells you, and while you think your data is safely synchronized, you can never know. Another “shortcoming” (although by design, and some might actually find it an advantage) is that sync can only occur with at least two computers on simultaneously, since the data is not stored anywhere. Now that Microsoft announced their Skydrive, I hope they will tie in Foldershare, offering the option of either direct P2P or web-based sync, which could also become your online backup.

Talk about irony, how about this: although Google is the champion of moving to the cloud and Microsoft the defender of PC-based computing, I am struggling to use Google’s otherwise excellent but single PC-based product, Picasa over several PCs, and if Windows Live Photo Gallery has a better architecture, I’ll switch in a split second. What an upside-down world!

Windows Live Onecare is another important piece of the Live package – but it has nothing to do with on-demand computing, being a package that needs to be downloaded, aimed at keeping your local PC safe.

How about Windows Live Writer? It’s the best offline blog editor I’ve seen for along time – but again, strictly offline.

Actually, we don’t even have to look at the individual applications: this week’s news that triggered a flurry of posts is about a Unified Live Installer, which by definition is the good old model of downloads, updates, patches went wrong, reboots..etc – there is no install in the on-demand world.

All in all it’s safe to conclude that Windows Live offers a number of very good applications, but in the Cloud it is NOT.

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