Tag Archives: rant

Free Browser Toolbars – #2

This post is more of “collecting” yet another example of a “free” and “helpful” browser toolbar that could be installed than a rant.  I think that point was fairly clear the last time.

Suns Free Toolbar
Sun's "Free" Toolbar

The interesting thing about this one is that Sun is offering to install the MSN toolbar.  The last time I posted on this subject Sun was installing the Google toolbar.  What gives?  Why the change of heart Sun?

Fake Antivirus Programs

Fake anti-virus warnings like the one below really piss me off.  This one came up in Internet Explorer while using Google to do some research.

Antivirus 2009
Antivirus 2009 in Internet Explorer


This dialog popped up from a perfectly legitimate link in Google results.  Regardless of whether the dialog is closed with the OK button, the Cancel button, or the window close button, the user is taken to a malicious web site.  The web site behind the link redirects to winfix2008live.com/_freescan.php.

Pop-up blocking is activated in Internet Explorer.

Internet Explorer Popup Blocking Set
Internet Explorer Popup Blocking Set

Firefox is no less immune in this respect.

Antivirus 2009 in Firefox
Antivirus 2009 in Firefox

 Apple Safari on a MacBook Pro has the same issue.

Antivirus 2009 - Safari
Antivirus 2009 in Safari


I’m a fairly knowledgable computer use with up-to-date security software installed on my systems, so it was a bit of a surprise when browsers started popping up warnings about being “struck by the virus.”  It is easy to see how “average” computer users can be misled by these sorts of popups

Free Browser Toolbars

Why is it that every application thinks that it needs to install a toolbar into Internet Explorer (or other browsers) to help me with my browsing experience?

I’ve collected a few examples of installation programs “helpfully” offering to install a toolbar into Internet Explorer; there are, undoubtedly, many others.

AVGs Free Toolbar
AVG's "Free" Toolbar
Skypes Free Toolbar
Skype's "Free" Toolbar
SpySweepers Free Toolbar
SpySweeper's "Free" Toolbar
Suns Free Toolbar
Sun's "Free" Toolbar

These are just a few of the “helpful” toolbars that are offered by these otherwise reputable vendors.

Most often these toolbars are installed automatically if the user runs the default installation.  I’m a fairly savvy user (I write software professionally afterall) and I normally run through “custom” or “advanced” install options if provided in the installer to see what “helpful” things I might be signing up for (there’s always the “send us anonymous feed back about your experience to help us improve the user experience” opt-out option).  Unsophisticated users, like my wife or my parents, won’t likely take the custom installation route because it probably seems to hard or they feel like they “don’t know enough” to make informed choices while customizing.

Ok, I do know why these tools are installed:  reputable vendors install them to “improve the user experience.”  That’s marketing spin to obscure the fact that these toolbars are really there to help the company and its “carefully selected partners” obtain more information about what interests consumer and help the “better tailor products to ” their “core demographic.”  In other words, they’re installed because it helps the marketers sell more stuff.

A lot of the toolbars are really pretty harmless … other than slowing down the browsing experience with other stuff loaded in memory and all of the extra communications to improve the user experience.

Software vendors should take the “opt-in” rather than the “opt-out” approach to installing these helpers.  It would make the default installation process faster, safer, and result in less clutter on user systems and user browsers.  But, and this is why they won’t, if they did the marketers would pay less for the information because fewer computers would actually be returning data to the marketers and, in turn, their clients would pay them less for the information.  All marketing operations should be “opt-in” rather than “opt-out”, but that isn’t likely to happen unless consumers rise up and demand a change in law to clearly disclose all marketing data collection operations and require that the default answer to the “Would you like to participate” or “Would you like this widget that is going to collect all sorts of information about you and send it to our servers so we can sell you more stuff” questions be “No, I don’t.”

The vendors that choose to add these “helpers” to their installation packages aren’t likely to stop anytime soon.  If anything, more vendors will feel the pressure to do this as well.  It will be a challenge to train unsophisticated users to properly deal with installation programs to minimize the chances that unwanted “helpers” will be installed on their system.

Update:  Noticed I missed the SpySweeper image when I posted this.

Modular Windows

There is alot of speculation that the next version of Microsoft Windows will be “modular.”  ArsTechnica has a fantastic discussion here.  The article misses the point, though.  Microsoft certainly misses the point.

I want a modular operating system.  What’s that mean?  To me it means an operating system that installs just what’s necessary to boot the computer, enable support for all of my devices (like video cards, printers, keyboards, network cards, external drives, …), and provide a graphical framework for my applications to run on.  Graphical framework?  Well, strictly speaking that isn’t necessary to run a computer; but we are in the 21st century and that’s what users expect.  It should povide support for common communications protocols (via libraries) that my chosen applications can use.

Modular operating systems should allow me to install whatever web browser, email client, ftp client, picture software, office software, anti-virus/anti-spam software, or instant messaging client that I want.  An arbitrary piece of software like a web browser shouldn’t be wired deeply into the OS and then claimed as an essential part.  The operating system should provide a simple and well-documented method for any class of software to be installed and provide its services.

The OS shouldn’t come with any “helpful partner” applications to “make my experience better.”  At the very least if it going to recommend some “helpful partner” applications then the default option should not install anything the user didn’t explicitly give consent for (it should be opt-in, not opt-out).  My experience would be better if the OS just worked.

Ok, the part about a web browser being wired deeply into the operating system is an old complaint.  And taking it out isn’t what is being talked about when the term “modular Windows” is thrown about.  I’d like my “consumer” system to be as bare as possible (but with support for all the cool graphical interfaces that can be made).

I know, some of you are going to say “Just use Linux; all your desires for a modular OS will be met.”  Well, I have some installations of Linux floating around.  The problem is:  Linux never “just works” for me.  When Linux attempts to install and can’t figure out my nice, new LCD monitor then there is a problem.  I realize where the “fault” is, but Linux gets the blame because it didn’t “just work.”  I know I can take the Linux source and do whatever I want with it to make as modular as I want.  But, while I am a software developer, that’s just too much work for this consumer.

If Microsoft is really basing the idea of “modular Windows” on what users of their software really want, please, Microsoft, come talk to me.  I have some idea about what real consumers want.