CLUTTER & CRUD

When I got back from vacation, I got a quick lesson from Microsoft about how we get unwanted programs that slow down our computers, and how our computers are changed behind our back. It’s nothing underhanded or evil, just a reminder that we have to read every screen carefully before we click OK.

I’ve got Windows Live Messenger running on my computer. (Don’t send me instant messages. Maybe it’s a generational thing – I find them intrusive instead of convenient.) The message tonight was innocuous – a little window that said an update had been downloaded and was ready to install. Do I want to install it? Sure. I clicked OK.

Here’s the first screen that came up.

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On the bottom left is a list of four programs that would be updated automatically, not just a single update for Messenger. Not really what I intended to start, but okay, I’ll take the latest versions of the programs that I use regularly.

But see those checkmarks in the upper left? If I click Install, I’m going to get a new toolbar in Internet Explorer, family controls that I don’t want on my office computer, and a connector for Outlook that has no relevance to my Exchange mailbox.

Those aren’t awful programs. Some people would find some of them to be quite useful. But almost no one needs all of them and to be honest, most of you don’t want any of them, not one little bit. Installing unnecessary programs by default is exactly what causes our computers to become cluttered and confusing.

I unchecked those boxes and watched as the installation program downloaded all the updates. (What about the message that said the updates had already been downloaded? They were kidding, apparently.) Five or ten minutes later, the computer had to be restarted. Restarted? For an update to an instant messenger? I’m guessing that some deep changes were made to the computer. Maybe it’s that list on the right – it’s not just an instant messenger, it’s “Visual Studio Runtime, Search Enhancement Pack, Sync Framework Runtime, Sync Framework Services,” whatever those things might be. Starting to see why your computer is running slow even though you don’t think you’ve changed anything?

After everything was installed, another screen came up.

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The “search provider” checkbox would change the search box in the upper right corner of Internet Explorer, currently set to Google, of course. You’re not meant to notice the clause about how it would “prevent programs from interfering with this choice.” In other words, if Google cooks up something to change your upper right corner back, then “Live Search” is prepared to fight to the death. If you try to do it yourself, “Live Search” will throw up a couple of extra barriers before you’ll be allowed to win. (To be fair, Google plays exactly the same game and tries to lock itself into place when its toolbar is installed.)

(An interesting story about the Live Search service – Microsoft is frantically trying to make it interesting, adding rotating background images and trying to improve the search results. No one cares. No one uses it. Google’s market share just keeps increasing. In one of the more pathetic, sad promotions that I’ve seen recently, Microsoft introduced “Live Search Cashback” which offers to pay you if you’ll just use its search service for something, anything. Even cash bribes haven’t worked.)

The second checkbox will change your home page, which I assume is currently set to bruceb internet favorites. If you click Continue without looking, Internet Explorer will open up on MSN.com, a cluttered, unappealing piece of work. Yup, you’d start every single Internet Explorer session looking at headlines like these – taken from the middle of the MSN.com page right at this moment, god help us:

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I think it’s fine that Microsoft offers the option to change everyone’s IE home page – but I don’t want those boxes checked by default! (You probably know this, but your home page can of course be anything you choose. Here are simple instructions if you need them.)

Microsoft is the model of restraint compared to other companies. Please always do a custom installation of new programs so that you only install things that are genuinely necessary, and watch those checkboxes!