A Disturbing Trend

"Lawyers in the Windows Vista Capable lawsuit against Microsoft want a federal judge to force the company to use Windows Update to notify potential class members of the suit, according to court documents." This is the opening paragraph in an article in ComputerWorld. A number of people, including myself think this is a bad idea.

My reasoning is that it opens the floodgates to an almost unstoppable method of advertisement (yes, that is my comment). The argument goes like this. First you allow "notices of relevance," and that might be legal or some other notice. Then you start getting internal marketing material along the lines of upgrade your Office suite today to Office Suite 2.0, now with more electrons. Then you get the wholesale selling of eyeballs to the highest bidder. And the scary thing is this is not something that is limited to the Windows Update service. There is no reason why a Linux repository cannot be easily populated with similar stuff. Red Hat needs some quick cash? Sell ad space. Apache needs to keep those download servers running? Sure, hawk the latest and greatest plug-in. In the Open Source world, this is the sort of thing that is less likely to take off because of the loud outcry from the user community. But in many cases, even a large outcry might only be noise in the wind.

We all agree that there are certain programs in cyberspace that are essential. It takes man-hours to build them and man-hours to support them before they even make it to the "street" and get implemented. We are lucky that most of this development is done as a labour of love, so that the costs are in general deferred. But there are costs. Programmers have to eat, servers need power and programs need bandwidth to be downloaded. In government sectors, we call that G&A or overhead. Specifically, it is the quantifiable but non-reimbursable costs that get rolled into the charges that are passed along to the customer. This is true in every industry, they just tend to be a lot more hidden than in government cost accounting. As we watch our economy sink, these overhead charges become more illuminated as a way to reduce costs. And when the software is something that we all depend on, such as Apache for example (I could have said Firefox or DNS or DHCP), just how loud would the noise have to be to be effective?

But, when the overhead is born on the backs of the programmers and foundations, cutting overhead becomes a very tricky business. It is difficult to cut something that is essential to your business. Do you turn the lights off or shut the servers down two days a week? Cut back on heating and air conditioning or cut out bonuses? These are all very real issues and it is not a large leap of logic to think that any business (and I am using the term loosely here) would look at alternate ways to increase or bring in new revenue, an not only new, but guaranteed counts, because when you go to sell space to advertisers, they want to know what sort of return on investment they are going to get. How many eyeballs or butts in the chair or hits on the web site or feet through the door can they expect? And then you better measure up.

But that is not the most disturbing fact. What is most disturbing is that it has already started. McAfee does it with their commercial virus updates, Symantec does it, Real Player does it. And I do foresee a day when it will, sadly, be part of the routine patch process.


David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack


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hadise's picture

Thank You

There are a couple of things

I'm a Linux's picture

There are a couple of things that the lawsuit and MS can do.
1: MS should start listening to the customers, send a one-time only message using the Automatic Update asking users “Would you like to receive lawsuit [and only lawsuit info, no advertisement] information through Automatic Update?”. If majority say Yes, then that’s what MS should do. If majority answer No, then the court order should be dropped. Just because a lawyer and a few hundred or thousand people want to use Automatic Update to notify users of class action lawsuit, it doesn’t meant that the rest of us want it.
2: If the court order is issued, then there should be an option to opt-in before getting the info.

Also, whatever happens and customers aren’t happy with M$, then they’ll switch to Linux or Mac.


Anonymous's picture

The Web2, or whatever people call the internet these days, has good and bad. One bad is that pretty much whoever is smart enough to open a web browser and type can also post a blog on the net. And, many blogs, like this, are bogus.

I wish I hadn't wasted my time reading it... Wait, come to think of it, why am I even wasting my time posting this comment...???

The Murph!

Sun does this with Java pushing OOo

David Gerard's picture

Sun already does this with Java on Windows, pushing OpenOffice.org. Even if you go to java.com for your Java download, they'll offer OOo in the package. I've yet to see lynch mobs over this.

I can't imagine a Linux distro doing this. You thought the fuss over the Firefox 3 EULA was bad?

That has *already* happened. Brace yourselves!

El Perro Loco's picture

Years ago I was installing (sorry) Win2K on a machine. I was inexperienced.

All of a sudden, when I had just finished connecting the machine to the Internet, I got some strange little windows popping up in the middle of my screen, offering Viagra, low interest loans, timeshare cabins, teen sex and whatnot. I researched and learned that it was caused by bad people on the other side of the connection. They were using Windows' (sorry again) messaging service - the same service that had been intended to convey useful information to and among "consenting users". It was being exploited the same way that Windows Update can easily be.

The fix to stop that crap was to deactivate the messaging service. Nice!

There you have it. You my fellow posters do the math.

PS: I *am* a fervent Open Source / Free Software / GNU/Linux enthusiast. Just for the record.


Anonymous's picture

"McAfee does it with their commercial virus updates, Symantec does it, Real Player does it"...... WTF, is this a windows Noob or a Linux user?? None of that crap applies to a Linux user, so why should we even care?


Anonymous's picture

"Lawyers in the Windows Vista Capable lawsuit against Microsoft want a federal judge to force the company to use Windows Update to notify potential class members of the suit, according to court documents." "A number of people, including myself think this is a bad idea", please don't think so hard.

How else would the users of Windows be notified of a class-action lawsuit, even if you disagree on it. There was a judge and enough people that came together, that made a formal decision and agreed that something is wrong and should be corrected. A class action or a representative action is a form of lawsuit where a large group of people collectively bring a claim to court, obviously Microcrap was purposely being deceptive and knew it.

Its really bad that I can download a hacked rewritten version of Vista that performs better their standard product and even go so far as to install it on a Pentium-3! Investors should pull all their money out now.

How are other class-action

KenE's picture

How are other class-action suits publicized? Through television commercials, newspaper ads, mailings, etc. As much as I dislike MS, the idea of a judge ordering any company to advertise a suit against them is just absurd. How many bottles of pills have you bought with a slip of paper under the foil seal stating "Sue us!"?

FYI, the pills comment was

KenE's picture

FYI, the pills comment was not intended to be a flame against you, although reading it again I guess it could be taken that way.. I develop software for pharmas, so that was just the first thing that came to mind..

All the more a reason for open source

Leslie P. Polzer's picture

But why would free software users care about that?

Dump proprietary vendors and take control of your software.
That's what rms has for the last 25 years fought for.



goblin's picture

It's true. This trend wont catch on in Linux-space.

If Microsoft pushes ads through the Windows update system, you're screwed - Microsoft, and only Microsoft, makes Windows. So if you use Windows you're stuck with MS, and you can't change Windows-vendor.

If Red Hat pulls the same stunt? Hello Unbreakable Linux! Hello CentOS! Or even: Hello [insert your favorite Linux distro, commercial or not, here]!

Finding a new OS vendor in Linux-space is way less disruptive than finding a new one in Windows-space.

Right on, Leslie--Free Software all the way

Terrell Prude' Jr.'s picture

Right on, Leslie. I finally wiped the disk of my last MS Windows machine in 2003 and have been on FOSS ever since. My computer problems have largely gone away. No spyware, no pop-ups, no Sony rootkits, no disabling of my DVD-ROM drive because the OS thinks I'm violating copyright, etc.

The same goes for Apple's Mac OS X. I've got a couple of Power Macs. They run Yellow Dog Linux or (for a little while longer) Ubuntu Dapper Drake PPC.

I find myself thanking RMS every day that I sit down at my computer.

--Microsoft-Free Since 2003

Not a trend

theillien's picture

You're citing the potential of one incident which has yet to be approved. A trend requires more than one event of similar qualities. If this request is granted and leads to the events you describe, then you have a trend.

Until that happens, keep the FUD to a minimum please. We get enough of that out of Redmond.

Backdoor advertising is a trend...

David Lane's picture

Backdoor advertising is not new, and is, in fact a trend - whether it is in the form of popups on web sites or custom push code. What is disturbing is that it could very easily become part of the routine process, and this has already occurred in several products as I have cited. It isn't "fear, uncertainty and doubt," but the beginning of a very slippery slope. If non-technical lawyers can present a "use," then we are really already there.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack