Joe Wilcox at Microsoft Monitor is unhappy about Microsoft’s attempts to steer people to its paid services. They’re practically guilty of shipping spyware themselves, he concludes, based on this experience:
I started up the Averatec 6100H this morning and got a warning that http://www.averatec.com was trying to change the default home page from http://www.msn.com. Thing is, the default had been set to averatec.com by the PC manufacturer. The warning sure as hell baffled me. Either Microsoft’s software changed the setting to msn.com without asking or it was attempting to trick me into switching back to msn.com. Yes, trick. That’s absolutely my interpretation of the wording, regardless of Microsoft’s intentions.
Later on I checked the anti-spyware software log and learned that: “The user Joe Wilcox, has decided to allow the Internet Explorer Start Page URL change from its original URL of http://www.msn.com/ to http://www.averatec.com.” Of course, the original start page was averatec.com and not msn.com.
Sorry, but the wording is confusing and presumes that msn.com was the default home page, which it was not. A PC manufacturer choosing its own home page on it computers is a fairly common practice, I might add. I’m stunned, simply because the tactic of confusing the user into agreeing to a home page change (a.k.a. highjacking) is a common tactic used by spyware. And Microsoft calls its software anti-spyware?
Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? That evil Microsoft, trying to fool people into changing their home pages to MSN.com. Except that’s not what actually happens when you try to change your home page on a computer with Microsoft AntiSpyware installed and configured with its default settings.
First of all, the behavior Joe describes was coded by the original developers of this program, the GIANT Software Company. I know, because I checked it out this morning. Blaming this behavior on Microsoft’s motives is misguided.
Second, this is a beta. Feedback like this goes into the product design.
Third, I think Joe misread this dialog box. I have my Internet Explorer home page set to My Yahoo, and I have Microsoft AntiSpyware installed. Here’s the dialog box I saw when I tried to change my home page:
The warning message accurately describes the current home page (http://my.yahoo.com) and the one I tried to change it to (http://www.bott.com/weblog). The reference to MSN.com appears afterwards and it is accurate, if you understand what the default home page is. On the Internet Options dialog box, there are three settings under the Home Page heading: Use Current, Use Default, or Use Blank. The default setting for all retail and OEM copies of Windows is MSN.com. In this case, it appears that the maker of Joe’s PC, Averatec, changed the Start Page value (which defines the current home page) but didn’t change the Default_Page_URL value. Both of these settings are found in the Registry as REG_SZ values at HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main.
Not only that, but notice that neither of the options in the dialog box above will allow me to change my home page to MSN.com. If I click Allow, my home page gets changed to the value I chose (or to the value that a script or spyware program is trying to force on me). If I choose Block, the setting for my Home Page stays exactly where it is!
I don’t know if it’s just sloppy note-taking or what, but this is at least the fifth time in the last four months that I’ve found an error at Microsoft Monitor. I’ve sent e-mail to Joe on each occasion, and he’s corrected most of the errors, although I’m disappointed that he’s never acknowledged the input publicly. And because Joe has decided not to allow comments, it’s impossible to carry on any kind of dialog except through e-mail or (as I’m doing here) by providing corrections on my own blog.
(At least one other Jupiter Research analyst, Eric Peterson, does allow comments.) [Updated: The default template on Jupiter Research blogs includes a link that reads “I welcome your comments,” but it just pops up an e-mail window. It appears that no analyst at Jupiter Research actually allows comments that appear on the same page as a blog entry.]
It’s hard to continue reading or recommending a source that regularly gets the details wrong.