Quicktime has been an annoying bit of software for ten years now. My experience tonight was the final straw. I’ve spent the better part of an hour cleaning it off my system and I don’t intend to let it back. What is it with Apple? Every time I feel like giving Apple the benefit of the doubt, swayed by all the hype, I have an experience where I’m reminded that Apple writes crappy, invasive software.

Quicktime has been around forever, a bit of free software that will play online videos in certain formats. In the last few years YouTube and the other big video sites began using Flash for movies, so Apple shifted its focus to new high definition video formats. Most of you will only run into Quicktime now if you go look for movie trailers – the studios use it a lot.

And Quicktime has been a pain in the neck forever. When I began this news page, one of my first comments was a complaint about Quicktime. (I’ve got old archives here – I was ranting about Quicktime on 09/27/99. “Is it just me or is Quicktime incredibly annoying?”) For years Apple released Quicktime updates that did not remove older conflicting versions; at one point Apple literally hid the free version of the program in an attempt to deceive us into downloading a paid version; recently it used a Quicktime update as a mechanism to deceptively install its unnecessary and insecure browser.

A couple of days ago I installed the Quicktime 7.5 update, supposedly an important update to cure serious security problems.

Quicktime stole my file associations. I hate it when programs steal my file associations.

An easy example: You probably have three or four or five programs on your computer that can open JPG files. One of them is the default the one Windows will use if you just click on a JPG file. That’s the file association – they’re the default programs assigned to dozens of different types of files recognized by your computer.

Manufacturers have been trying to steal file associations from each other for years. Each program that you install for photos will try to become the default program for opening JPG files. When you click on a file and the wrong program starts, it’s because something else has grabbed that file association.

It’s possible to reassign the program of your choice but it’s a pain. (Right-click on a file of the type you want to change, click on “Open with / Change default program” and you’ll get a list of likely programs, along with a checkbox to “Always use this program to open this type of file.” Vista has a well-organized set of controls – click on Start, type “default” and click on “Default Programs.” It’s not a friendly place to hang out.)

I guard my file associations jealously. When I click on an MP3 file, I want J River Media Center to play it. When I click on a JPG, I want it displayed in Windows Live Photo Gallery; when I click on a PNG, I want Microsoft Digital Image Editor. You might not think of it but you’re just like me, looking for continuity and familiarity, not sudden unexplained changes in the programs that pop up.

Quicktime 7.5 has a confusing installation routine and tries to become your default program for dozens of types of files, but if you’re careful during installation it’s possible to deselect all of the file types so Quicktime is not the default for anything. That’s my favorite result – it’s a yucky program with terrible controls and insistent advertisements for a paid version. (Remember, always do a custom installation of any software and read all the things with checkboxes!)

I stopped Quicktime from grabbing any file associations and installed the update. No worries, eh?

I clicked a link tonight in Internet Explorer to download and save an MP3 file. The Quicktime logo appeared and the file started playing in Quicktime’s stupid player embedded in a big empty white Internet Explorer page.


Come to find out that Internet Explorer has its own file associations, separate from the rest of the computer. Without asking, Quicktime had installed an IE addin that took over god knows how many file types in Internet Explorer – movies, PNG files, MP3 files, more.

Research, experiment, more research, more experiments. Once Quicktime steals those Internet Explorer file associations, it’s virtually impossible to put them back to the defaults. They are stored completely separately from all the regular file associations, so repairing those doesn’t do anything to IE. I tried registry fixes, I tried IE7’s tool to reset every browser setting to its default (Tools / Internet Options / Advanced / Reset Internet Explorer Settings). I tried disabling Quicktime’s addin (Tools / Manage Add-ons) and discovered that the file associations were hosed – web pages had red Xs where PNG files should display, error messages appeared when links were clicked for some file types. According to what I was reading online, uninstalling Quicktime does not put things back to normal!

In the end, I was saved by a system restore. Once the IE file associations were back to normal I was able to set about to scrub my system of Apple software, including the “Apple Update Utility” that I had specifically told it NOT to install. (Apple: “I’ll be darned. How did THAT get there? Little rascal.”)

This is obviously not a huge problem – most of you would be mildly inconvenienced and a little confused, nothing more. But I’m watching our interactions with Windows computers become more complex and more confusing and it’s the result of a lot of little invasions like this by companies who have only their own corporate interests at heart. So trust me, I’m only thinking of you when something like this makes me furious.

I’m not sure what the conclusion is. Quicktime occasionally comes in handy online and if it’s installed then it really should be updated for security reasons. It’s not so awful that I’m going to urge you to remove it. But personally, I’m going to swear off movie previews and see if I miss it. I hope not.

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