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Another Obligatory Microsoft Rant

You know, lots of companies have “corporate communications” departments, where they examine the public impact of a policy or product, and choose the best way to handle it. This may be difficult where the news is unfavorable, because they have to somehow spin a bad story into a good one.

But it all-too-often seems as if Microsoft, despite listing corporate communications people on their employee roster, doesn’t have a working department to determine and control the fallout of the moves they make. How else can you explain some of the utter stupidities that emerge from their executives and actions?

It wasn’t so long ago that outgoing Chairman Bill Gates pronounced spam dead within two years. Of course, that was more than two years ago, and nothing has changed. Then again, most of the prognostications that emerge from Gates have been equally wrong. If he charged a fee for his guesses, he’d be a poor man now.

In terms of wrong-headed actions, do you recall that notorious Windows Genuine Advantage update, which was considered “mandatory” for XP users? What it turned out to be was a scheme to make your PC contact the mother ship every single day online and confirm that your Microsoft software was “genuine.” So the only advantage was to Microsoft. In fact, the lack of WGA also meant you’d be unable to download the updates you needed to keep your operating system as reliable and secure as possible. Or at least reliable and secure according to Microsoft’s definition, which you can truthfully regard as questionable.

Worse, the software they initially provided was a beta version, not even a final release. Now imagine if Apple forced you to install beta software? The hue and cry from certain tech pundits and Wall Street naysayers would be deafening, but they hardly uttered a whimper at Microsoft’s blatantly hostile shenanigans.

After lots of people objected to being hoodwinked into downloading and installing that thing, they relented and extended the duration of the online snooping process.

Another scheme, recently revealed, is just as blatant, and it’s clear they didn’t learn much from the WGA debacle. Or maybe it wasn’t so much of a debacle, because the complaints vanished near as quickly as they came. I suppose Windows users are inured to abuse from the ever-present malware threat and the other problems that plague the platform.

The latest scam affected even XP and Vista users who had configured Windows Update to switch off the automatic updating feature. Despite that choice, Microsoft’s servers have been regularly pushing out “Secret” updates that were installed behind-the-scenes anyway.

What sort of updates? Why to the Windows Update software of course? But why would anyone need that update unless the feature was activated? Why indeed?

Microsoft’s excuse is that this sort of uninvited updating process has been in place for for several years, and, according to a published report, is done “from time to time to ensure that it is running the most current technology.”

Right, sure!

The only possible reason you’d need that update is when you switch on Windows Update, or chose to perform the update scan manually. Then the first update can be a newer version to facilitate future updates.

In fact, that’s precisely what Apple has done in the past when they needed to refresh Mac OS X’s Software Update software. If the feature was running, the first update you received would be the patch that upgraded the update mechanism. Then you’d be ready to receive future upgrades for Apple’s software without further fuss or muss, and you could still select whether to check for them via remote control or manually. Your choice.

Of course, Microsoft made its usual half-hearted apology, and strongly urged Windows users to allow the updates to be performed automatically anyway. Just this week, Microsoft compelled users of Window Live and MSN Messenger to perform upgrades due to a security issue if they wanted to continue to use these applications. Yes, give them continued control of your box.

Lots of businesses, however, won’t listen and with good reason. If you think Mac OS X updates are bad, it is not uncommon for Windows updates to break a lot of stuff. Thus, IT people will test those updates extensively to make sure they work with the software needed to run the business. Then they deploy those updates in a controlled fashion, to cause as little disruption as possible.

Microsoft, alas, wants to have it otherwise. From the company that brought you the brown Zune, and was forced to take a $100 charge on every single Xbox 360 sold to repair serious defects, that’s the sort of lame behavior you come to expect.

But they still remain number one, and rake in huge profit margins on their software. Some continue to regard them as unstoppable, and so long as you believe the old adage from P.T. Barnum, “A sucker is born every minute,” I suppose they’re right.