Apple makes concession on pushing Safari to Windows users

Separates updates and new offers, but Mozilla wants more

Apple has changed its software update tool for Windows users so that it separates updates for already-installed programs from offers to install new software.

Last month, John Lilly, Mozilla's CEO, took Apple to task for using the update tool, familiar to Windows users as the mechanism for updating iTunes, to push the Safari browser to people who had not previously installed the program. Lilly said the practice "undermines the Internet" and "borders on malware distribution practices."

Lilly's comments, which appeared in a blog post, raised a furor, with Apple defenders calling his criticisms, among other things, a "mountain out of a molehill" and a "load of crap."

Apple has updated the Windows utility, dubbed "Software Update," to version 2.1. That version features a split-pane displays that lists "Updates" atop and "New Software" below. On Windows XP and Vista machines sans Safari, for instance, the Apple browser appears in the New Software section, with its selection box pre-checked.

Mozilla noticed the change.

Asa Dotzler, Mozilla's director of community development, said the move was "an important, though not sufficient, improvement" and called on Apple to go a step further. "Now Apple needs [to] stop checking the box for 'New Software' items by default," he said in a post to his blog.

In his March reproach of Apple, Lilly had also brought up the checked-by-default box; today he echoed Dotzler. "Good change! A bit more to do..." he wrote on his blog.

It's unclear when Apple first started offering Software Update 2.1; there was no mention of it on Apple's Web site, for example. On Windows Vista, however, the installed tool carries a date stamp of April 11.

"In this latest release we have made it easier for customers to identify between software updates and new applications," said Apple spokesman Anuj Nayar. He declined to comment on whether Apple made the change in response to last month's criticisms, or if it would consider Mozilla's request to deselect the Safari install box.

Apple updated, Safari to 3.1.1 yesterday fixing four flaws in the Windows version and two in the Mac edition. One of the two bugs on the Mac side had been used in a hacker contest last month by a researcher who took home a $10,000 check and the MacBook Air notebook he hacked.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld

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