Microsoft: Be afraid, be very afraid

Security threats are worse than ever, and Microsoft seems to have no clue how to handle them.

Here's a scary thought: Microsoft can take over your computer wherever you are, and do whatever it wants to. On this Halloween day I cant think of few things more frightening (except maybe a blind date with Larry Ellison).

Like Dracula or Freddy from Nightmare on Elm Street, Microsoft is a reliable boogieman who still has teeth (or a razor sharp fingernails). Last week the Redmond Re-animators still proved they still had the fright stuff, thanks to yet another snafu involving Windows Update.

In this episode, enterprises reported that Update automatically installed Windows Desktop Search 3.01 on systems that had been configured not to run the resource-hogging app. Microsoft's response? "Oops, sorry." But this time they did actually apologize, which for Microsoft is like asking Nosferatu to drink V8 instead of O negative.

Meanwhile, Windows wonk Scott Dunn has come up with an explanation for the forced update that caused many users' systems to suffer an involuntary reboot earlier this month. The culprit? Not "absent minded users," as Microsoft contends, but Windows Live OneCare, which automatically changes your Update options to be, well, automatic.

Microsoft's response to that one? Users received (an extremely vague) notice about this when they installed OneCare, so tough. In the Live OneCare blog, an anonymous drone blithely notes that while you can't stop OneCare from installing critical updates, you can turn off the optional ones. Given that Microsoft can label anything it wants as "critical" -- witness Windows Genuine Advantage -- this is cold comfort at best.

All of this would be moot if Microsoft were doing such a killer job of protecting our computers that we would gladly give up control over them and live happier, safer, more productive lives. But we all know that's a fantasy. In fact, the threats are worse than ever, and Microsoft seems to have no clue about how to handle them.

For example: The vulnerability that allows a malicious PDF file to turn your PC into a zombie. After three months of sloughing off the problem to third parties Microsoft is now scrambling to fix it. But the patch may not be released for another two weeks or more.

(All you smug Mac heads can stop smiling. German security researchers have discovered some gaping holes in Leopard's firewall.)

The ugly truth is that Microsoft is using security fears to force its enslaved base (that would be you and I) into installing stuff it wants us to have. Somebody needs to put a stake through its heart, before it kills again.

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Robert X. Cringely

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