The Windows Live OneCare team continues to find new ways to shoot themselves in the foot. There have already been a number of bugs and annoyances that have been poorly handled. Better communication would have prevented some of the negative media coverage in the past, and now they’re doing it again.

Over the last couple of months, a new version of OneCare was automatically installed on the computers of all OneCare users. There was no notice by e-mail and the random timing of the rollout made it impossible for me to advise people effectively. The upgrade made the program slightly more complex but the real problem was worse – the upgrade required decisions about the new features immediately without sufficient explanation or context. A wrong choice – designating a network connection as “Public” instead of “Home or Work” for example – left computers cut off from shared folders or printers with no obvious fix. I’ve had a frustrating few weeks cleaning that up.

On January 31, again with no notice (not even any notice to the online forum where OneCare is discussed), another minor update was automatically installed. Again, computers had to be restarted. Ignoring the notice to restart was perilous – if ignored for more than a few hours, the computer forced a restart. At no time was any explanation offered about the upgrade or the restart.

onecarered The January 31 update has created its own flap. With no notice – again, not even any notice to the dedicated advisors working the OneCare online forums – OneCare now goes scary Red if AdAware or McAfee Site Advisor are installed on the same computer.

Those two programs have a long history and many people have had one or the other of them coexisting quite happily with OneCare. The imperious red icon leads to a message demanding that they be uninstalled, with no explanation.

People are irritated. If you want additional protection and believe it’s necessary to supplement OneCare with another program, you should be able to do that, right?

The answer is, not necessarily. The problem isn’t that the instructions aren’t appropriate – they might be. The problem is that there was no warning ahead of time, and yet again the OneCare team isn’t responding to people’s questions in a timely way.

Here’s the most active thread on the OneCare forum about AdAware, and here’s the thread about McAfee Site Advisor. There has been no official response. There’s reason to suspect that the OneCare team acted without researching these programs deeply. Naturally there is speculation that Microsoft is just trying to avoid competition, not reacting to any real problem at all. People are getting no answers but there’s the OneCare icon glowing red – the color that should only be used when there is a grievous, system-threatening problem with security.

The worst thing is that there may be a plausible reason to heed the warning. It is well-known that only one antivirus program can run on a computer; they are built in a way that almost guarantees conflicts if two run simultaneously.

Adware/spyware scanning is starting to take on some of the same characteristics. OneCare and the paid 2007 version of AdAware both run as services – a deep level where conflicts may occur. The OneCare team may well believe that it is safer not to run AdAware and OneCare together; like all conflicts, not everyone will experience a problem but some people might.

McAfee Site Advisor does a different kind of work, but the OneCare advisor on the forum quite reasonably pointed out that McAfee also designates OneCare as a conflicting program for all McAfee programs, without exception.

Why not make an announcement ahead of time, in a clear way and with a warning that OneCare will begin to treat the programs as a sufficient threat to change the color of the OneCare icon? Why generate the press that will undoubtedly use this as an excuse to throw more bricks at OneCare?

I need a security suite to believe in – something that will make you safe, something that will take care of itself so you don’t have to call me. OneCare has been so close that things like this are maddening.

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