One of my home machines is Windows 7 Enterprise x64. A few days ago an interesting thing started happening. Windows Update (WU) traybar is notifying that there is a new “Important Update” that needs to be installed. I have it configured for manual update because I want to decide what gets installed and what doesn’t. So I open the WU console and look at the details of the “Important Update” and to my surprise its not an update at all but rather a bunch of new software which I don’t really want in the first place nor have already installed on my machine, so it doesn’t need updating.
It seems Microsoft is reverting to using WU to push unwanted software, kinda like what adware, spyware and rogue software does. I guess if you can’t convince users to download and install your software the next best thing is to push it down their throats whether they like it or not. Nice move MSFT!
I decide to un-check the “Important Update” and forget about it. But to my (second) surprise, the WU notification from the traybar does not disappear as it normally does when you decide not to install an update. I open the WU console again and, surprise surprise, the “Important Update” is still there checked by default (even though I already told it I don’t want it), ready to be installed as soon as a user hits the “Install Updates” button.
The “important” software bundle is named Windows Live Essentials 2011 and at a 160MB size includes the following:
– Photo Gallery
– Movie Maker
– Family Safety
– Windows Live Mesh
– Messenger Companion
– Microsoft Outlook Hotmail Connector
– MS Outlook Social Connector Provider for Messenger
– Microsoft Silverlight
Searching around a bit I found a couple of interesting blog posts by Microsoft. One here saying that the install will only be shown as “Recommended Update” or even “Optional Update”, which is not true as it is showing as an “Important Update”. But more interestingly, here and here there’s hundreds of users complaining not only about the tactics of the installation but also about the buggy software and how this “update” has changed their preferences, lost their business contacts, lost functionality previsouly used in other software, etc.
This is wrong is so many levels that I’m still amazed that such a respectable company can get away with it.
a) Microsoft is conveniently confusing “updating” with “installing” and using WU for their own business benefit. WU should only be used for updating software and drivers already on the machine, not for installing completely new software which the user didn’t ask for and which in some cases replaces non-Microsoft software chosen by the user and already installed on the machine.
b) The tactics for installing this software bundle are less than ethical. Microsoft has configured it so that it tries to install again and again, even if WU is configured as allowing the user to choose which updates s/he wants and even if the user already chose not to install it. Even if you’re part of the lucky ones that has WU set to manual, chances are the next time Microsoft releases some real security updates, Windows Live Essentials 2011 will be installed along with it as it is checked by default. This is suspiciously close to how adware and spyware behaves.
c) Is this the type of behaviour we are to expect from Microsft’s WU in the future? What’s to stop them from changing your browser, your Office, your settings, your search engine provider, your preference for other software, etc. and replacing it with their own? What if I don’t want Silverlight, Bing toolbar, Writer or any of that other software? I already have chosen other software or services to perform those tasks. Is Microsoft ignoring user decisions and imposing their own software without anybody stopping them from doing so? What if we did the same and started installing Chrome and disabling Internet Explorer in all our users’ machines citing “security reasons” for the change?