Microsoft sics lawyers on popular AutoPatcher utility

Microsoft restricting downloads of updates to its own sites

On the same day that Microsoft set a date for the delivery of new Vista and XP service packs, it shut down a popular utility built and maintained by Windows enthusiasts for easily installing updates offline.

The AutoPatcher utility is described by project manager Antonis Kaladis as an offline Windows Update. It provides an interface to a large collection of updates, common applications and registry tweaks. The collection could be downloaded once, then used to update many computers, saving time and bandwidth. The collection was updated monthly.

Microsoft, however, told Kaladis that it fears his utility potentially could distribute malicious software along with legitimate Microsoft updates. Microsoft says it wants to limit the distribution of updates and other fixes to its own sites, such as Windows Update.

AutoPatcher was launched as a hobby in 2003 by Kaladis, who says on his Web site, "I once spoke to a Microsoft employee, and apparently they know about us but don't care what we do! The AutoPatcher project has been going strong since 2003 and never had a sniff of trouble from Microsoft."

Ironically, Kaladis also noted in the AutoPatcher FAQ, "with AutoPatcher, you can install critical patches offline, eliminating the risk of getting infected while using Windows Update."

Everything changed Wednesday, however, when Kaladis posted a message titled "Sad Day," which read: "Today we received an e-mail from Microsoft, requesting the immediate take-down of the download page, which of course means that AutoPatcher is probably history. As much as we disagree, we can do very little, and although the download page is merely a collection of mirrors, we took the download page down. We would like to thank you for your support. For the past four years, it has been a blast. Unfortunately, it seems like it's the end of AutoPatcher as we know it. Comments are welcome. . . ."

As of mid-morning Thursday, more than 400 comments had been posted.

A respondent using the name Xan wrote, "I am extremely disappointed in Microsoft's actions . . . yet again. In my opinion, AutoPatcher has been doing Microsoft a favour [sic] over the years! It's sad to see such a great achievement and project go. . . . You guys at AutoPatcher are brilliant and I wish you all well in any future projects that you embark on."

Another comment signed by Bruce Roberts said, "As a support tech I found the AutoPatcher essential for saving time and valuable download limits on my broadband account. I'll miss you greatly, AutoPatcher!"

Microsoft's legal department also contacted the Windows-enthusiast Web site NeoWin and told site administrator Steven Parker the site can no longer endorse AutoPatcher. " I have no explanation for why Microsoft allowed it to continue unchecked for four years before making this decision," Parker wrote. He said the Microsoft representative told him the decision had nothing to do with troubles associated with Windows Genuine Advantage. The service suffered a 19-hour blackout over the weekend.

Microsoft officials said in a statement, "It's Microsoft policy that the distribution of supplemental code, such as hotfixes, security updates and service packs, is discouraged. This policy is in place due to concern for the safety and security of our customers, as we can only guarantee the download's contents when it comes from a Microsoft Web site. Distribution of these materials without permission is also an infringement of our copyright."

The statement confirmed that the company contacted AutoPatcher and requested that it stop redistributing Microsoft's intellectual property.

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John Fontana

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