Editor's Outlook: Apple Pulls a Microsoft
by Wayne A. Thorp
Most Windows users have some piece of Apple software installed on their PCs. For me, its iTunesso I can listen to my music while writing articles. Like many other software companies, Apple prompts the users of its software whenever they release an update or new version of a program with its Software Update utility. As an iTunes and QuickTime (Apples media player) user, I can expect the prompt window to appear every couple of weeks, urging me to install the latest versions.
A few months ago, Apple innocently or surreptitiously, depending on which side of the Apple versus Microsoft argument you are on, added an update option for its Safari Web browser. For many of us, present company sometimes included, seeing an Ok or Install button evokes a mouse-click stimulus/response reaction. Luckily, I noticed the word Safari, which prompted a closer look. I didnt recall having Safari installed on my system, so I unchecked the Safari option and simply installed the iTunes update.
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Well, as it turns out, the Safari update was actually a new installation, begging the question: When is an update not really an update? It appears that many other people were caught unaware, resulting in a fresh installation of Safari, whether they actually wanted it or not. And so a furor began.
Over the next few weeks, Apple was raked over the coals throughout the blogosphere for deceptive and underhanded practices. John Lilly, CEO of Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox browser and an archrival of Apple in the Web browser arena, went so far as to say that what Apple did borders on malware distribution practices. While I wouldnt go that far, I was more than a little annoyed by what I saw as an attempt by Apple to sneak Safari onto my system.
Interestingly, Apple was merely following the same tactics other software companies use, including Microsoft, Adobe, and many other well-known software makers. Eventually, Apple relented to public pressure and released an update of its update utility, which does a much better job differentiating between updates and new softwarealthough the checkbox for a new Safari installation is still checked by default.
Now the debate now moves on to what impact, if any, this episode will have on Apple. From a market share standpoint, the impact has been overwhelmingly positive. According to Net Applications, Safaris Windows market share in April tripled. While impressive, it still only commands 0.23% of the Windows browser landscape.
If this situation has shown me anything, it is how easily someone with much darker intentions could slip malicious software (malware) onto a large number of computer systems. Mozillas Lilly believes this stunt undermines the safety of users on the Web . In some ways, I feel that Apple has done the opposite. I will be more careful whenever I am prompted to install some update. While I am not sure how long this newfound vigilance will last, I do know that if more people paid closer attention to what is going on with their computers, fewer would fall victim to viruses, spyware, and other unwanted stuff on their PCs.