Patch Surprise

By John Pallatto  |  Posted 2007-01-22 Print this article Print

Despite my position as an editor for a technology trade journal, I never acquire the latest gadget just for the satisfaction of having the next new thing. My thrifty New England attitude dictates that if your old equipment still works, dont replace it. The irony is that since IE 7 refused to work on my PC, I launched Mozilla Firefox so I could go to the Microsoft Web site to troubleshoot the problem. There I learned I could simply run the Windows application removal utility to uninstall IE 7 and the system would restore my original IE 6 installation with all my favorite links. Click here to find the Microsoft Web page that explains how to uninstall IE 7 on your computer.
The solution was quick and simple, but the irritation was enormous. Microsoft decided it would use the security patch process to sneak IE 7 onto the desktops of millions of PC users.
If it was going to try this tactic, it should have at least made sure that the installation was so reliable that it would work virtually every time. Microsoft has likely set back IE 7 adoption by months at least for the people who experienced these problems. Microsoft Watch also raised the question on what caused ActiveX vulnerabilities to increase in 2006, the year Microsoft completed and released IE 7. I know that I was prepared to make a permanent switch to Firefox if I found that I could not restore my IE 6 configuration. I may yet make greater use of Firefox just to reduce my dependence on Explorer. Its significant that Microsoft apparently hasnt tried a similar trick with its corporate customers who are much more particular about how and when they upgrade to any new application. The cries of outrage directed at Redmond would have been a lot louder and more anguished. There is no question that thousands of Windows XP users like myself have successfully or even deliberately installed IE 7 and are pleased with the new browsing features it gives them. But why does Microsoft believe it must treat its customers like children and trick them into installing a new application? Its like parents tricking babies to swallow bitter medicine by mixing it with some applesauce. Its bad enough that the Internet allows Microsoft to reach out and touch our computers whenever it decides to do security and application updates. Yes, its true this is the most efficient way for Microsoft to patch its software. Without the Internet, prompt distribution of security updates would be impossible. To read the details about the January 2007 security update, click here. Then there are those annoying automated prompts that pop up every time one of your applications crashes, asking whether you want to send a notice to Mother Microsoft, telling her what bad things those nasty applications did to crash Windows. You are never far from the comforting arms of Microsoft. But the security update channel shouldnt be used by Microsoft to launch marketing experiments on its customers. Nor should the patch mechanism be used to spring new products on users without their full knowledge and acceptance. There should be a further examination of this process to see whether Microsoft is violating the terms of its antitrust agreements with state and federal governments by using the security patch channel as a sly technique to head off competing applications from the PC desktop. As for myself, I will forever approach future "security" updates with great caution. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Editors note: We corrected this column to clarify the reference to the Microsoft Watch post on the apparent increase in ActiveX vulnerabilities. John Pallatto is a veteran journalist in the field of enterprise software and Internet technology. He can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.

John Pallatto John Pallatto is's Managing Editor News/West Coast. He directs eWEEK's news coverage in Silicon Valley and throughout the West Coast region. He has more than 35 years of experience as a professional journalist, which began as a report with the Hartford Courant daily newspaper in Connecticut. He was also a member of the founding staff of PC Week in March 1984. Pallatto was PC Week's West Coast bureau chief, a senior editor at Ziff Davis' Internet Computing magazine and the West Coast bureau chief at Internet World magazine.

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