Eightball and Thundercloud's RANT

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Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #91 - July 15, 2005
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What's Up With Microsoft?

We've always been supportive of Microsoft. This irks some people because the cool thing to do is be anti-Microsoft. If you don't believe this, look at similar newsletters and you'll see a decidedly anti-Microsoft bent running through them. It is not our mission to be "cool" but to be honest. Our honest opinion has been that Microsoft doesn't deserve all the bad press and attacks it receives from many techno-writers and the press in general. However, it has become popular to take an anti-Microsoft stance and because it (they think) increases readership (and makes them more money). It's almost a certainty that anti-Microsoftism will continue to be popular horse to ride. After all most of us learn in life, it's easier to criticize than to praise.  It's easier to find faults than solutions. These days it's cool to be negative. Heaven forbid we ever say something nice about someone. Well, I guess we all become cynics if we live long enough.


I like to think that Microsoft is the company that brought computing to the masses. Arguably, Windows is a "borrowed" idea. (Apple came out with a graphical user interface long before Microsoft.) But, Bill Gates and associates took Apple's idea of a GUI and made it run on IBM and IBM compatible computers - and the rest is history. Microsoft has tried very hard to improve its products even though it is claimed that Microsoft is a monopoly and has no "real" competition. Still, Microsoft has made great strides since Windows 3.1 was introduced. Every operating system they've introduced since then, with the exception of Windows ME, has been a huge improvement over the previous version. Now, Windows XP is vastly superior to any prior version of Windows. And, Microsoft deserves to be commended. Their commitment to security in the past two years has been exemplary. Windows XP-SP2 is a huge step forward to a more secure Windows. Sure, there's a way to go, but it was a giant leap, spurred on by consumer demand and a strong commitment by Microsoft to give the consumer a more secure computing environment.

We've always stood behind Microsoft. In fact, we stood behind Windows XP Service Pack 2 and recommended that everyone using XP install it, despite the fact most every other "tech" site was telling their readers NOT to install it. Today, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone with any credibility not recommending the installation of Windows XP Service Pack 2. But, in the beginning, we stood as one of few who advised everyone to install it.

Almost without exception, until now, we have always supported Microsoft. But today we're scratching our heads and wondering exactly where Microsoft is headed. The things going on at Microsoft today are not the kind of things we would have seen a few years ago. And we don't much care for what we think we see.

Let's take their Microsoft AntiSpyware Program and their rumored buyout of Claria  (makers of such wonderful things as Gator, WeatherScope, and Dashbar - spyware/adware all) for example.

Claria, long recognized as a leader in the spyware/adware field, is most noted for its "Gator" program, which is arguably the most well known adware/spyware unit on the Net. Claria's products are in the cross-hairs of most anti-spyware programs, with the notable exception of Ad-Aware and Microsoft's Windows Anti-Spyware.

While Windows Anti-Spyware recognizes Claria's products, strangely, Microsoft has changed its recommendation from "quarantine" to "ignore". In other words, leave the garbage on your computer and let it continue collecting data from you and gobbling up your system resources faster than uncle George gobbles up food at your family picnic. This change came about recently - about the same time as the Claria buyout talks were rumored to be taking place.

And, there is no question that Claria's products collect tons of information from its users' computers. If you don't think Claria's infamous products collect data from users, how about this:

Microsoft does not need the technology that drives Claria's adware/spyware products. Microsoft has tons of top-notch programmers. If they wanted to make adware, or spyware for that matter, they could easily do so. But, what is the one thing that Microsoft can't easily get? That's right! Terabytes of information about people's Web browsing habits. A terabyte is a lot of information. A terabye is a little over 1000 gigabytes.

Could it be that the only reason why Microsoft would want to buy Claria is because it possesses tens of terabytes of data collected from and about its users? If so, then Microsoft must want this information very badly. Rumor has it they are offering $500,000,000.00 for Claria. That's a half a BILLION dollars. What does Microsoft want terabytes of user-data for? What will they do with it? This deal, if it goes through, will cast a shadow over Microsoft longer than Bill Gate's bank account statements, which if stretched end-to-end would reach from Redmond to the moon and back, six times.

Whether the information that is collected on the sly by Claria's products is "personal" or not; I think there is something ethically wrong with software that follows people around the Web, snoops on their activities and rams advertisements (based on what they're viewing or what they're searching for) down their throats. I'm sorry, it's just plain wrong. Especially when most users don't have a clue all this is going on. Not many of them, you see, ever bothered to read the 20 to 30 page license agreements, terms of use, or privacy policies of Claria. Claria claims the user gave consent. Hmmm, how can one give consent to something one does not understand? Consent, by its nature, requires understanding. We doubt most users of spyware and adware gave any cognizant consent for these types of software to harvest information about them and send it silently and secretly off into cyberspace. To be collated, analyzed and stored on servers owned and the greedy developers.

OK. I'm guessing. I am guessing that Microsoft is willing to pay a half a billion dollars for terabytes and terabytes of surreptitiously gathered user-data which, for now, remains tucked away on Claria servers. And every byte of that data was gathered from people like you and me and anyone else who might have gotten snookered into downloading Claria's questionable products. Most all of it gathered without the knowledge or cognizant consent of the user. Apparently, according to Ben Edelman, some 40 million people have at least one of Claria's products installed. That's a lot of data.

I've always believed if you want to avoid looking like a crook you don't hang around with crooks. And, if you don't want to look like a drug dealer you don't act, dress like and hang around with drug dealers. Why Microsoft would ever get involved with Claria, even if they wanted all that user information quite badly, is beyond me. If Microsoft does indeed buy Claria, I, for one, will be very suspicious of them. And, I've always trusted Microsoft.

What's up with Microsoft? I don't know, but something isn't right if these rumors about Microsoft are true. And most everyone in-the-know seems to think they are.

We don't recommend Microsoft's Windows Anti-Spyware (Beta). We had high hopes for it in the beginning. After learning all we have, we have lost all faith that it will ever be a viable and important weapon in the war on spyware and its crony adware. And the big loser is not Microsoft. The big losers are those of us who trusted Microsoft to make the best software. Software that works better than any other. Microsoft, you've let us all down this time. And we ask: "What's up with Microsoft?"

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