If you have Windows 7 or Vista, you might have seen the Windows Update icon down by the clock this week, alerting you to available updates. Opening Windows Update reveals an “Important Update” ready to install.
We trust Microsoft and the Automatic Updates system. We have to trust someone and Microsoft has earned our respect by using Automatic Updates conservatively to deliver security patches for Windows and Office.
This week’s “Important Update” is the Windows Live Essentials 2011 suite, which doesn’t improve our security or fix bugs.
I’ve been urging you to install updates from Microsoft when prompted by the icon in the lower right corner. The Windows Live Essentials suite should not have triggered that icon. Microsoft can blanket web sites with ads, they can fill the World Series with commercials, they can fly blimps over my house – but I want that lower right corner to be sacred territory. This suite may be nice but it doesn’t belong down there.
I’m not alone in feeling a tad betrayed. A research advisor from Panda Security wrote an angry and critical article (“Dear Microsoft: Please stop pushing potentially unwanted software through Windows Update”), prompting a lengthy evaluation at Softpedia which concludes that it isn’t that bad, even though the process is confusing and “might not be the most transparent and fortunate approach.”
What interests me is the complexity of the Automatic Updates system, which triggers whether you see the alert for this “Important” update. There are two update systems, “Windows Update,” which covers only the core OS, and “Microsoft Update,” which adds updates to Office programs and other Microsoft programs on your system. I’m not aware of any non-technical person who knows anything about that. Almost everyone with Windows 7 or Vista has installed the extra software to run the “Microsoft Update” system, whether they realize it or not. Microsoft Security Essentials turns on Microsoft Updates automatically. When a program in the Office 2010 suite is launched the first time, it inquires about whether it should install updates automatically, which installs Microsoft Update if it’s not already there.
Then there are settings for how updates are handled that no one has ever looked at. Open up Windows Updates on your Windows 7 or Vista computer and click on “Change Settings” on the left. You’ll see a mess o’ checkmarks which are undoubtedly meaningful to the Microsoft engineer who wrote them.
The settings in that window play a role in whether you see the “important” Windows Live Essentials suite. It will only be listed as “Important” if the box is checked to “Give me recommended updates the same way I receive automatic updates.” Go ahead and look. You’ll find the box is checked. That’s the default choice for something or other. It’s a fine choice most of the time.
But wait, that’s not all! You’ll have different options depending on whether you already had any previous versions of the Windows Live Essentials programs installed or not. It’s essentially impossible to determine what this experience will be like on your computer. You might not see this update, it might be “Important” or “Optional,” you might be offered the entire suite or you might have the option to take a limited piece of it. Who knows?
In response to another critical article this week, a “Microsoft spokesperson” describes the process this way:
In Windows Vista and Windows 7, we streamlined the number of tabs needed to view to select updates in order to create a simpler experience for customers. . . .
Fair enough. Simpler experiences are good. What is the simple explanation?
If a customer has selected the option to “Give me recommended updates the same way I receive Important updates,” then we will show the ‘Recommended’ updates with ‘Important’ updates and download or install them according to the user’s automatic update settings. If a customer did not select this option in the Windows Update settings, then ‘Recommended’ updates will be offered under the ‘Optional’ update tab.
Admit it. You can’t read that. Your eyes keep sliding off the words despite your best efforts to focus on them. They appear to be English and they’re written in an order where verbs follow nouns, and yet somehow it looks almost exactly like the Sanskrit tablet at right.
Let’s not overstate this. The Windows Live Essential 2011 programs are swell. You won’t hurt your computer if you install them. You’re given the chance to pick and choose which ones you want during the installation, if you’re careful. You should at least install Windows Live Photo Gallery, and others if they might be useful.
If you want to change what’s installed, follow these instructions. Basically, if you highlight Windows Live Essentials in the list of installed programs and click on “Uninstall/Change,” you’ll be able to remove any unwanted programs in a single smooth operation.
There’s one last thing that I find particularly irritating. At the end of the installation, the installation program will try to sneak in a couple of quick options, changing your default search provider to Bing and changing your Internet Explorer home page to Bing.com. There’s nothing wrong with Bing; they pick a pretty photo as the background every day and it’s a good search engine. I just don’t like companies that compete to steal home pages and search engines. Like you, I want Google to do my searches, thank you very much. If you want bruceb favorites as your home page, that’s your choice. Well, maybe it was mine and you can’t figure out how to change it. But it gives me a rush of pathetic gratitude when I sit down to your computer, and I don’t want to lose that. Watch for annoying checkboxes!