Latest Ed Foster's Gripeline...
- From: Straydog <asd@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2007 11:30:06 -0400
Maybe, someday, I'll go back to Linux.
Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2007 11:12:07 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: [Ed Foster's GripeLog] Windows Updates and Software Ownership (fwd)
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ED FOSTER'S GRIPELOG
The Reader Advocate Column
Windows Updates and Software Ownership
Monday, Sept. 17, 2007
By Ed Foster
Do you own the software on your computer, or do the software companies?
That's really the issue that lies at the heart of a brouhaha that arose
last week regarding Windows Updates that apparently are installed
without user permission. What I find most fascinating about the incident
is what it reveals about the world of EULAs and DRM in which, at least
if you listen to the software industry, we all now live.
A story last week in the Windows Secrets newsletter (see
reported that recently Windows Update for XP and Vista has stealthily
downloaded a number of updates even for users who don't want automatic
updates. Subsequent observers confirmed the updates had indeed gone out.
In what appears to be closest thing to an official response (see
a Microsoft program manager blogs that the updates -- minor patches for
the Windows Update software itself -- need to be installed if the update
process is to work as users expect.
While none of the observers have seen any sign the Windows Update
updates cause any harm, Microsoft's argument struck many as being a
Redmond-knows-what's-best-for-you approach. "The idea they can't give
the user a choice in a situation like this is just nonsense," one reader
wrote me. "There are some very good reasons some of us choose just to be
notified of updates rather having them automatically installed ...
starting with the litany of buggy releases Microsoft has foisted on us
through they years. It's my machine, and they have no business making
changes to executables without telling me."
Business users in particular have security and accountability issues if
their software assets aren't actually under their complete control. "An
owner and an operator of a computer in an enterprise can absolutely no
longer claim to be able to audit the machine if control of the updates
are being done without the owner even being notified," wrote another
reader. "What Microsoft is doing is sheerly Orwellian, and clearly
designed with the intent of taking remote control of a consumer's PC at
their whim if Microsoft chooses to determine the consumer has violated
their EULA or decides a licensed copy is not a licensed copy. Of course
the recent collapse of the Windows Genuine Advantage servers shows what
a dangerous strategy that is, and the disastrous consequences when a
single point of failure at Microsoft occurs. Sadly, it is not just
Microsoft. Every software vendor seems to think they can do anything
But this is actually something of an old story, both in terms of the
issues readers are raising expressing and Microsoft's somewhat vague
reassurances of their good intentions. Back when Windows XP was newly
released I wrote about (see
some very similar concerns readers had about XP EULA terms that gave
Microsoft the right to automatically update components of the operating
system. And the response Microsoft had back then echoes what they're
saying now. "We clearly have more work to do to make sure that it's
clear when these automatic features are used, and we are looking at how
to do a better job at that," the Microsoft spokesperson said in 2002.
"But it is certainly not our intent to access any user's system when
that is not what they desire."
So after all these years, why is it that Microsoft still has to admit
that it's not being as clear about all this as it ought to be? Well, I
think we can see a clue if we compare the old and new EULAs. The early
XP EULA said that: "You acknowledge and agree that Microsoft may
automatically check the version of the Product and/or its components
that you are utilizing and may provide upgrades or fixes to the Product
that will be automatically downloaded to your Workstation Computer." The
Vista EULA is at least a little more direct about what the purpose of an
involuntary download is: "The software will from time to time validate
the software, update or require download of the validation feature of
While the wording has changed a little bit, the meaning remains the
same. It's all about the DRM. If Microsoft's various and sundry
anti-piracy schemes are to work, it has to have the right to make
changes to components of the operating system whether you want them to
or not. And, however good Microsoft's intentions might be, if any of
those changes happen to cripple your computer at a bad time, hey, read
the EULA. It's your problem, not Microsoft's.
It would be easy for Redmond to make this crystal clear, but I guess
just coming out and saying that Microsoft has the right to disable your
computer at any time would be a little too blunt. So who owns the
operating system on your computer? If you run Windows, the answer is
that Microsoft thinks it does, and you should take that fact into account.
Read this column on-line and post your comments at
Got a gripe? E-mail me at Foster@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Recently in my weblog:
Reader Voices: Disclaimer Defense
Is there any legal justification for stupid e-mail confidentiality
notices? My recent story on that subject did result in a number of
lawyer types coming forward to offer at least a half-hearted defense of
the seemingly useless disclaimers. I have to say though that I don't
think they've convinced many of us.
RMA Processing Fees
Something that has long driven customers crazy are the arbitrary
"restocking" fees that vendors often charge when you return a defective
product for credit. But a reader recently encountered an unpleasant
variation on that theme. In order to get an RMA number to replace an
in-warranty Sapphire video card, he was required to pay an RMA
"processing fee" amounting to more than a third of the original purchase
Rebates Go in Dumpster
Victims of deadbeat rebates have long suspected that their rebates just
get tossed when vendors don't feel like paying off. But now there's
proof, as one small tech vendor, Vastech Inc., has been caught
red-handed literally dumping unopened rebate submissions from customers.
The One-Way Information Highway
Vendor websites increasingly seem to be set up more to collect
information about the customer than to provide information about the
company's products. As one reader recently noted, just finding a way to
ask a few questions about products before you buy can prove an
As one of the most mature technology product categories, you might think
that disk drives would rarely cause customers any grief. So it's a bit
surprising that more than one reader recently reports feeling a
destructive urge directed at their storage device.
Copyright 2007 Ed Foster's GripeLog. You are granted permission to
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