Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Micro$oft update II

I complained about Microsoft update a while ago already, but can't resist to do that again. There are a couple of features in XP and the Update that are so absurd that I can't fathom how anyone OK'd them to be rolled out.

First, the XP setup. XP is actually a pretty impressive heap of software, with a huge number of features for the varying needs of the huge number of people using the system. As I said before, I do respect MS for what they've done, but the downside of all this is that you end up having a lot of components you will never use and will never need. Also, as there are alternatives to email readers, web browsers and media players that often have smart features that the MS products lack (like safety), it is good to know that MS provides a Setup utility where you can remove those XP components you don't need, and if you want to reinstall them, you can do it via that same interface.

This is smart and allows me to disable the fax, remote desktop, cryptography and other XP features I don't need, and to get rid of the Outlook Express that is basically a red carpet for viruses that you can also use to read your emails.

However, when you open the setup, it says (and I quote): "To add or remove the programs, click the checkbox." Yes. That's right, you can do either, the problem being that you don't know which one of the two you are doing. I might just be thick, but especially as this same setup opens via Setup, add/remove programs, and the "Disk cleanup" -utility, it is not as clear which is which. Following the path from cleanup, you'd think that you check boxes to remove items you don't need.

Now I know that if you check a box, it installs the component in question. If you have a component unchecked, I think it is supposed to remove them, except that it doesn't. So, if you want to get rid of Internet Explorer, the prime target for all virus writers in the world, you leave the box unchecked, and the shortcut from the desktop disappears.

But, if you then click "Microsoft Update" in the start menu, it launches ... Internet Explorer. As it is the only browser allowed to access the sacred Microsoft Update website, that is a good thing, but the whole point of cleaning up diskspace isn't really happening, is it? What I'd like to see is a same kind of utility for XP components as the Add/remove programs is for other software. Items listed and then a selection of deleting or fixing the component.

Well, I've now relocated the Calculator that I lost earlier when I failed to check Accessories from the Windows component list, and have now the latest version of Windows Media Player, which always tries to hijack most of the audio formats to be played with it by default.

To get the new WMP, I visited the Microsoft Update website. It found that I was missing a very important, critical, high priority update. This was the "Windows Genuine Advantage". ?, I thought, and clicked for more info. For only 1.2Mb, this loverly program would check that my copy of Windows is legit, and if not, it would advice me as to how to obtain a legitimate copy of Windows. What? I know my Windows is OK, as I remember paying for it. I don't need this update, I decided.

Wikipedia revealed what MU had not told me: in addition to checking the authenticity of my XP, it would regularly contact Microsoft and tell them about the status of my XP. In other words, it is spyware (US lawsuits pending). Update lets you pass installing things, and provides a box you can check if you don't want that update offered again. Checking it means that the update now has a large warning sign on top of everything saying I've decided to hide a critical update and my system might now be in danger and that it is highly recommended to repent and install the bloody spyware. At the same time, a number of upgrades for XP, WMP, IE, and other components are classified as non-urgent and optional, so they are hidden under a separate tab. Priorities first.

I honestly can't wait to get rid of XP, my PC laptop and the whole pain in the neck that running these computers cause. The PC vs. Mac -adverts are funny, and try to emphasise that there is a difference in the design ideology of these two systems. Factual inaccuracies of these ads aside, I think they are showing an important point. I don't see the main difference being that Macs are for fun and PCs are for serious work, but there is a similar difference. It's like between two possible student grant systems, or rental companies, or banks. One focuses a lot of resources on making sure nobody swindles the system and so every applicant needs to go through a thorough and arduous vetting process and at every stage of the way getting the idea that you are a potential problem for the system, you should be glad they are even considering your application and piss all for how you feel about it.

The other option is to spend more resources on the actual service, expect that unless something else suggests, you are innocent and valued customer, and while the security is in place, it's tailored to be as invisible as possible, as ease of use is the guiding principle.

The result often is that the system that treats its users as potential hazards, will make them such, just out of frustration of all the stupidity you need to tolerate. Sort of the same thing as every action the US makes to increase its security angers more and more people and pushes them to disrupt it.

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