Two Microsoft things have turned up in the last week that have made me say, Hmmm. There’s no point to these and nothing special to do – just odd geeky things that caught my eye.

Microsoft took a lot of heat for rolling out Internet Explorer 7 as a “Critical Update.” It had to release a special tool for big companies to prevent automatic installation of IE7 and there was much discussion of whether IE7 should have been optional – IE7 has significant security improvements but a few browser-based programs and web sites are incompatible with it for one reason or another.

I’ve set up three new computers in the last week and noticed something that hasn’t drawn much attention – IE7 was turned into an optional update for Windows XP last week. When you set up a brand new Windows XP computer, IE7 won’t be installed until you look for it. I haven’t found anything to explain why it was changed. It’s not a big deal – IE7 is the default browser in Vista, which is where most people will see it on their next computer. But – why downgrade it? Is it less important now than it was last week?

Meanwhile, “Windows Genuine Advantage” has reared its ugly head again. Once again, Microsoft has pushed a WGA update into the “Critical Update” category. WGA has nothing to do with security; it’s Microsoft’s antipiracy tool, designed to identify pirated copies of Windows XP and make them annoying to use, inspiring millions to buy licensed copies of WinXP and ascend to a higher level of enlightenment. Or something like that.

Maybe you’ve installed the WGA update, or the little shield is down by the clock begging for attention. For no particular reason, it’s a “Critical Update” but it’s not installed automatically; each of you has to go through a short installation routine and click Next a few times.

The unforgivable thing is the checkmark inserted by default in a box that says, “Show me more information about the joys of running licensed software.” When you finish the WGA installation, your web browser takes you to a Microsoft anti-piracy web site. Okay, it’s no big deal, but installing a non-security related change to my computer and displaying unwanted propaganda is a misuse of the Critical Updates process. I don’t want to lose faith in that process – we have precious little to believe in these days.

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