Stop the Noiz

When Good Software Turns Bad

Frank Fox - 2008.03.26 - Tip Jar

I was going to continue blasting Apple critics on their perception that Apple stock was down and how poor Apple was screwing everything up, but with the recent jump in price, it felt like beating a dead horse to say that these people were wrong. They were wrong, and as the stock market recovers so will Apple's price.

Mozilla's CEO, John Lilly, comes to my aid with a new complaint about Apple. He complains how wrong it is for Apple to use iTunes to promote Safari for Windows. Now the question is, how legitimate is it for Apple to distribute other software as part of iTunes?

Let's break down the question by looking at a series of different install situations.

  1. You buy a new computer, and it comes with software preinstalled. This is both legitimate and preferred, because it speeds the time to get a new computer running and being productive. You'll probably have to add more software later, but having a working browser already installed will help with updates and finding drivers.
  2. The Operating System vendor or computer manufacturer has preinstalled on new computers a software update program that runs in the background. It will monitor for updates to programs that were part of the initial install. This is legitimate and okay as long as the choice for running the update can be denied, turned off, or postponed. Not all updates or installs are painless. Sometimes they have compatibility issues or make changes to features in the program.
  3. An installed program has its own update check. It scans on some frequency, usually each new start. This is legitimate and okay as long as the choice for running the update can be denied, turned off, or postponed. Sometimes they have compatibility issues or change features.
  4. A software program alerts you to another product that the company sells. This verges on unwanted advertising. This is most appropriate for freeware or shareware that you have not paid for. Yes, the advertisement is annoying, but as free or shareware software the originator has some rights to compensation for the product. Advertising can be considered compensation for your continued use of the program. This does not reduce the annoyance factor. The more frequent the advertising, the less likely you will continue using the software.
      It would be inappropriate for commercial software, and worse for expensive corporate software.
  5. Software updates or installs without any warning or notice. Depending on the original license agreement, this may be a reserved privilege, but that doesn't make it an appropriate thing to do. It could lead to system crashes or software conflicts that cannot be easily fixed or explained.
  6. Hardware that updates or installs internal updates without any warning or notice. Depending on the original license agreement, this may be a reserved privilege, but that doesn't make it an appropriate thing to do. It could lead to system crashes or software conflicts that cannot be easily fixed or explained.
  7. Hardware or software that installs without warning or notice a new program that controls or disables part of a computer or user installed software. It is doubtful that a license agreement could cover this behavior. It is not appropriate unless you actually want angry customers if anything goes wrong. It could lead to system crashes or software conflicts that cannot be easily fixed or explained.
  8. Hardware or software that installs without warning or notice and attempts to control the host computer or delete user files. The may be illegal, or at the very least likely to get you in court if you are caught.

My best guess is that iTunes falls into category 4. Apple gives iTunes away for free, and as such they can do what they want with it. The rub is that Apple has tied iTunes to items and services that you did pay for. You didn't buy that iPod expecting that Apple was going to sell you a new browser for your computer. I think you can be legitimately annoyed by Apple, but more or less you are using free software and have to suffer what so far has been an infrequent sells pitch.

Lilly says it's like malware; I suppose he is right, if you consider that malware works best when posing as something legitimate. Apple was a little pushy by distributing Safari the way it did, but a question box does pop up, and I assume that if you say no, then nothing gets installed. Malware is category 8. If malware asks before installing, it's only to trick you into helping. It will then go on to operate without your permission.

One thing I would say is, legitimate or not, all computer users should use caution before accepting the update or installation of any software. forget what Mr. Lilly says about a "relationship built on trust" - that is exactly the type of social engineering malware people use to trick you into opening attachments that you shouldn't. Don't trust popup boxes that you didn't initiate or friendly emails with an attachment that weren't expected. If you want to try Safari, you can ignore the update box and go to Apple's website and download it directly.

There is also poetic justice that only a longtime Mac user can see. Apple and Microsoft did a deal to make Internet Explorer the default browser on new Mac computers. That agreement eventually expired, and Microsoft stopped development of IE for the Mac shortly after that. Apple got into the browser business, because Microsoft forced them to by providing crappy support (what a surprise!).

Now it's Apple's turn to push Safari onto Windows boxes. Sure, Mozilla's CEO may not be happy, but Microsoft's Steve Ballmer will probably start throwing chairs when he finds out what is going on. LEM

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