Thursday, May 11, 2006

Windows auto-update process

I've been advising Windows consumers to disable Automatic Updates: Keep Microsoft's mitts off your machine until you're darn sure the proffered patches do more good than harm.

Take a second right now to check your auto update settings. Click Start, Control Panel, Security Center. Don't click the Automatic Updates bar at the top — Microsoft has the dialog box rigged to turn on auto-updating if you click around indiscriminately. Instead, click the "Automatic Updates" line at the bottom of the Security Center. Windows shows you an official-looking dialog box — "Help Protect Your PC," it says — with a cheerful good green shield at the top and a naughty bad red shield at the bottom.

With auto updates disabled, the next time Microsoft has a "critical" patch that it wants to push onto your machine, a balloon will pop up out of a yellow shield in the system tray, next to the clock at the bottom of the screen. The balloon will ask your permission to download and/or install whatever software Microsoft has on offer. Your job is to refrain from giving that permission until millions of clueless Windows users have an, uh, opportunity to beta test Microsoft's latest missives.

From where I stand, Microsoft has shown that it'll use Automatic Updates to shove any software change onto any system that it darn well pleases, any time it likes. This isn't a conspiracy theory. Microsoft isn't a monolith. There's no Big Brother or master plan behind it all, no Mini-Me lurking in the shadows. Instead, what we're seeing is a bunch of stupid decisions, propagated to a hundred million PCs, by people who have demonstrated, repeatedly, that they can't be trusted with the task.

By Woody Leonhard

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