Should Windows users boycott Apple's Safari?

Apple has made a mess of its Safari 3.1 browser for Windows

Apple has made such a mess of its Safari 3.1 browser for Windows that Windows users should consider boycotting the browser, because of an underhanded way of distributing it, that according to CEO honcho John Lilly says "borders on malware."

Making matters worse is that as soon as the browser was made available, security holes were uncovered.

The controversy began when Mozilla CEO John Lilly said in his blog that the way in which Apple is distributing the browser "borders on malware distribution practices."

The problem concerns the way that Apple uses Apple Software Update, which has until recently, only been used to send security updates to iTunes and QuickTime to Windows users. When Safari 3.1 was released, though, Apple didn't just use the updater to install those updates. Instead, it downloaded and installed the Safari browser. By default, when Apple Software Update pops up, it has the box next to Safari checked. Unless a user unchecks it, Safari will be installed.

Lilly says that here's what users expect when they get a software update:

As a software maker we promise to do our very best to keep users safe and will provide the quickest updates possible, with absolutely no other agenda. And when the user trusts the software maker, they'll generally go ahead and install the patch, keeping themselves and everyone else safe.

In other words, they expect updates, not completely new applications to be installed. So more often than not, they simply accept whatever the default is on an update. And they certainly don't expect an entirely new piece of software to be installed, instead of an update to existing software.

Here's what Lilly says about the Apple practice of installing Safari by default:

It's wrong because it undermines the trust that we're all trying to build with users. Because it means that an update isn't just an update, but is maybe something more. Because it ultimately undermines the safety of users on the web by eroding that relationship. It's a bad practice and should stop.

Some people have said that this is just sour grapes from Lilly, because he worries that it will cut into Firefox market share. I disagree. His agenda here isn't to increase market share, but instead to do the right thing.

There's even more bad news for Safari. The security company Secunia has found two serious vulnerabilities in the browser, and rates them as highly critical. In its security warning, Secunia says that the holes "Can be exploited by malicious people to conduct spoofing attacks or potentially compromise a user's system."

Based on all this, Windows users should consider boycotting Safari. Apple has long taken a holier-than-thou attitude against Microsoft business practices, and about how Apple software is more secure than Microsoft software. As this case shows, there's nothing at all holy about Apple. I, for one, won't be installing Safari.

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld
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