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Fearing abuse of new Longhorn features

One feature that touched a nerve (a *negative* nerve) with me was Bill Gates' statement about how Longhorn is going to centralize a lot of application data.  The example given is a centralized address book--nothing wrong with that, right?

Now, let's take a look at your Start Menu, from the Windows 95 to Windows 2000 era.  Let's take everyone's favorite media player install as an example.  After finishing the setup routine, you click on the start menu.  Above the "Programs" item, you now have a new icon named "QuickTime". 

Move on to Programs->    ...You see a new program item at the bottom of the list, called "RealPlayer 8".

Browsing out to the Programs->Startup tab, you see a new item: WinAmpAgent.

Going back to the Programs-> menu, you look for your new media player.  Is it under the standard Programs->Accessories->Entertainment with the original Media Player?  No.  Is it under its own generic QuickTime/Real folder?  Not precisely...it is usually stored in a program *subfolder* of the company *subfolder* of your Programs menu.  Breaking from the example, it is computer game manufacturers who are the worst at this--how am I supposed to know that Black Isle Studios-> will lead to the game I know as "Fallout"?  Programs->Black Isle Studios->Fallout->Fallout (program)

Often patches or newer versions of the same program will install itself in different locations on your start menu.  Even the venerated Microsoft Offices install at different locations.  RealPlayer 8, upon upgrading you to the Real ONE Player, will install new icons and groups everywhere *without removing your Real8 items*.

Some programs are kind enough to add their corporate home page (where they sell things) to my Internet Explorer favorites by default.  Some programs install an entire slew of these favorites, either within our without a special folder.  Some programs go the extra mile, and (ask to) reset my home page.



Now that you've gotten this far, you may be asking "What does this have to do with Longhorn?"  The point is that, at present, some programs leave detritus all over your system--on your desktop, on your start menu (in multiple places), on your email address, when they can get it, on your automatically-starting programs, on your various Internet Explorer settings.  We're pretty much used to it by now--an old hobby for DOS users was to rearrange the programs so that all games were put in the "C:\Games" directory, the applications in "C:\Apps", all while cleaning up bugs that appear when your game is not in the default directory (ASIDE: Hasbro's RISK game would not install, at all, if your Windows directory was called \WIN95).  We can right-click delete anything on the start menu that's cluttering it up, or, if we have given in to despair, allow the AutoHide feature to hide your 100 Program groups by default, and pretend the Start Menu is organized.  We have adapted to the problems, as is natural.

Another way to say 'program detritus' is poop.  Misbehaved programs poop *all over* your system.  Pellets on your desktop, piles in your start menu--a mess that you must clean.  Longhorn, with its newly-centralized features, will give programs an *unprecendented ability* to quickly and easily poop everywhere on your system.  THIS is what I am saying.

Hopefully there will be some sort of setting so that I can disallow this behavior--it will be obviously/painfully necessary when the first release of RealPlayer for Longhorn arrives.

anon
Thursday, October 30, 2003

I think your theory has merit.  I am also thinking about putting together a bare bones Unix box for general email and web schoozing.  Linux, Solaris x86, something simple and something that I don't have to worry that every script kiddie in the world has in their sights.  The whole security angle is getting out hand with regards to Windows, and I think your comments could apply to that area as well.

Commercial software is a subscription business.  Sell upgrades with new features or die.  Installed Office 2003 on a test machine last night, poked around for half an hour and decided not to upgrade the production/office machines.  Didn't see much in there I couldn't live without.

I wonder if Longhorn evoke the same reaction.

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Thursday, October 30, 2003

I do find it annoying how media players attempt to hi-jack each others' settings. Like WMP tries to claim the .MOV file association (which is wrong because it can't handle most newer Quicktime codecs). Or Quicktime Player tries to claim the .AVI file association. Or RealPlayer claims them both (and doesn't work right with either).

I think some best-selling software is best-selling precisely because of how it puts the for-pay stuff right in your face (RealPlayer, CuteFTP, etc). This isn't a bad thing, if you are a software developer :) - I wouldn't mind making millions off a slightly-annoying program... (not that I will do this in my own software :)

Dan Maas
Thursday, October 30, 2003

One more thing - there *is* a possible bright side. Do a little research on how BeOS handled image and video codecs. There was one central codec library that *all* BeOS software attached to. So any media player could play anyone's files, as long as the codec was in the main library.

I would love for Mozilla and IE to share the same Bookmarks, e-mail address book, etc. Yes, it would be a target for "software poop," but it's easier to clean out one central Bookmark library than several.

Dan Maas
Thursday, October 30, 2003

So don't install Real.  Personally, I don't want my computer held back because of what evils some developers might do. 

Ultimately, if a computer is going to do useful things for a user, it's going to require some level of power in the hands of software developers.  Fortunately, most developers seem to have enough of a clue to not want to aggravate users into full blown hatred of them.  Unfortunately, there are developers such as those who made Real and those who make viruses who don't care about aggravating their users. 

I've seen some things that suggest that Microsoft is aware of the need to balance the power given to software with the ability of some to abuse that power.  Raymond Chen mentioned in his blog that Microsoft is also annoyed by apps that crap all over the system and mentioned that they made some API level decisions related to new features to help prevent this (I think it was with tray bubble notifications?).  .NET introduces the concept of code level security making it possible for the user to dole out certain permissions on a per-app basis.  Hopefully, Microsoft will come up with a good way to allow the user to easily take advantage of this to allow trusted apps to do good things while preventing untrusted apps from doing bad things (for example, if an app could only add itself to the Longhorn Sidebar if the user gives it the code permissions to do so).

SomeBody
Thursday, October 30, 2003

Dan, Windows also supports a centralized codec system.  The problem is that companies like Real and Apple don't write codecs that work with this system.  They want you to have to use their players. 

SomeBody
Thursday, October 30, 2003

Speaking of programs sticking themselves in every corner of the start menu... Raymond Chen has some interesting comments on that.

http://blogs.gotdotnet.com/raymondc/
PermaLink.aspx/
441c4836-e2ef-4088-bc06-936d41886fbc

Myron A. Semack
Thursday, October 30, 2003

Good post.  One thing you didn't mention that has me wanting to take a two by four with a nail in it to the backside of the developers and marketers is the "we outta load some sort of utility helper program that will take 4mb or ram and launch the big main application from us 7 milliseconds faster while making your system crawl.  I know I was down on Unix yesterday, but server software has it all over Windows for this. 

By the way, I for one would like to see MS strip a bunch of crap out of Windows server line.  Let's see we can get rid of: Paint, Pinball, Media Player, MSN messenger, Outbreak express, Wordpad, DRM to start.  Next turn off all services not REQUIRED to boot the OS

Mike
Thursday, October 30, 2003

Why doesn't anyone mention that every time Real Player runs it sticks itself in your startup (regedit on HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/Microsoft/Windows/Run, look for tkbell). It runs its stupid process in the background taking up your resources every single second your computer is on... I guess polling its mother ship periodically for updates.

Skagg McGee
Thursday, October 30, 2003

Quicktime Player does that as well (qttask.exe). Also Acrobat Reader has some kind of persistent background process. (maybe to make launching it faster? why not just optimize the damn program :)

I do find the media player codec situation quite ironic. It's practically a battleground in there. MS wants you to use AVI (now WMV), Apple wants Quicktime, Real wants RM, etc etc... The only "common standard" is MPEG, and MPEG has all sorts of compatibility quirks.

Dan Maas
Friday, October 31, 2003

For AutoRun surgery consider:
http://www.sysinternals.com/ntw2k/freeware/autoruns.shtml
Or Start > Run > "msconfig"

Duncan Smart
Friday, October 31, 2003

Raymond Chen's blog gives me hope for Windows, in that it really seems like MS has learned that people like to abuse features. ;)

Flamebait Sr.
Friday, October 31, 2003

Oh the irony - Flamebait Sr. writes "people like to abuse the features". The very next post.. MLM Spam.

Steve P
Thursday, November 06, 2003

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