This Time M$ Goes Too Far

…and to add insult to injury, my daytime employer doesn’t go far enough. The end result is that I’m one hell of a frustrated guy these days. The latest problem is relatively simple and, until this week, easily avoidable. But not anymore.

After nearly five years of not substantially changing its ubiquitous browser, Internet Explorer (IE), Microsoft finally released IE7 with much fanfare in October. I read a lot of reviews and concluded that it might be a big improvement over IE6 even though its major improvements are that IE7 now compares favorably with the technically better and more standards-compliant relative newcomer, Firefox. However, because the online software I support at my day job is (overly, exclusively and unwisely) optimized for IE6 with Java JRE 1.4.2_11, not to mention that my SSL VPN connection to work is confirmed to be stable only with IE6, I decided that I would not open a can of worms by upgrading to IE7. While I did find from my readings that I could revert to IE6 if for any reason I didn’t like IE7, I went on the assumption that the reversal might not be perfect and I would experience nothing but grief afterwards. Therefore, given that I am more interested in keeping my day-to-day productivity high at my day job than fighting with my machine while trying to provide client support and training, I decided to wait a while before upgrading.

Meanwhile, one feature that made me nervous when I adopted Windows XP in 2003 was the automatic updates that come up periodically. Frankly, it felt a little “big brotherish” to me, plus it’s not like Microsoft has a great track record for releasing flawless software. However, I was told at the time that I should trust those updates since, for the most part, they are designed to fix those very flaws for which Microsoft is famous. Besides, it is possible not only to get a warning before those updates are installed, but also to pick-and-choose updates, as seen below (click image to enlarge).

In other words, one can ignore Big Brother’s “recommendation” to proceed with an “Express” installation. So, for the longest time, I would choose “Custom” each time an update came along. However, lately I noticed that after going through the list of updates, I didn’t bother unchecking any. Indeed, over time, I had found that the updates were a good thing and that my initial worries were unfounded. In short, I had to admit that I had gain some trust in Microsoft, and given that bashing the software giant is an old and tired sport, I wasn’t disappointed to drop my defenses.

Recently, JR, one of my day-job colleagues who also works from home, opted to turn in his company-supplied laptop and connect to work like I do via SSL VPN. He has been very pleased with the switch, in good part because the applications we use every day run much faster, which is ironic but besides the point. Anyway, early this week, JR turned to me for advice on IE7, to which he had upgraded over the weekend but had turned into a major headache, especially with respect to his SSL VPN which would crash without warning several times a day. So I advised that he do what we’ve been instructed to tell our clients: switch back to IE6 for a little while longer. He did and everything is back to normal.

A day after he switched, I called a client for an appointment and he announced that he had just upgraded to IE7. I gave him the usual line: we do not yet support IE7 and my experience so far has shown that our online software may or may not work, but if we proceed with IE7 because the client refuses to revert to IE6, then I can offer no guarantee of success and the client is waiving any expectation of receiving support from us until at least early in the new year. In this case, however, unlike a previous I had with IE7, this client didn’t mind going back to IE6 when we found that merely trying to load our application’s sign in page caused his IE7 to shut down, plus, he added, “I just upgraded to it 20 minutes ago so it’s not like I’m used to it already.” He then confided that the upgrade from 6 to 7 had been part of the Windows automatic update that he’s come to always accept when they arrive.

“You’re kidding,” I said. “You’re telling me that Microsoft is pushing IE7 as an automatic update?” And he confirmed that it is. Later, after that call, I was speaking with JR and he confirmed that’s how he got fooled into upgrading to IE7. “I always tell my mom to accept those updates because they can be trusted and are a good thing,” he explained. Indeed, we’ve been trained to view these updates as such. Still, I couldn’t believe that Microsoft would reach the point of abusing that trust which was so hard to get from heavy computer users like us …until I saw it with my own eyes when my notification of updates came up (click image to enlarge).

For your benefit and mine, I clicked on the –/+ to see what Microsoft had to say about this upgrade (click image to enlarge).

In other words, Microsoft is telling people that upgrading to IE7 is for your own good, for who, after all, doesn’t want “enhanced security” in view of its horrible reputation in that regard. But I was still stunned to see them trying to sneak in a version UPGRADE of their own software for reasons other than true security fixes, like say a service patch. Nonetheless, I unchecked not only the “update” but also checked the box instructing Microsoft “not to tell me about this update again” (click image to enlarge).

Doing so earned me what I consider this truly evil “important” warning to which I’m not sure less confident computer users wouldn’t succumb (click image to enlarge):

I shared my discovery with all my colleagues and supervisors, for it’s clear that our job is going to become a lot more complicated in the coming weeks. But one of my supervisors clearly got irked: she resent her memo of November 24 that states not only that we are not able to support IE7 at this time, but also that we are NOT to provide support for it. And I just cringed.

People like myself are on the front line. We deal directly with clients, and telling them that they have to downgrade because one of Canada’s largest employers tells them so is absolutely propostrous. Not only that: we were told that “it’s hard to believe” that there’s no way for people to opt out of the upgrade to IE7. But that’s coming from people who’ve been in a controlled box for so long that they have no idea what it’s like in the real world, plus as the above screen shots demonstrate, Microsoft is resorting to complications and guilt to get people to do exactly what it wants them to do. What’s more, almost since I started my job, I’ve made some noise — although not too much since I’m very low on the totem poll — about the advent of IE7 and the need to prepare for it, but I gave up around late September when I was shut down with a remark to the effect that “we can’t be running tests on every beta version that comes out.” Confronted with that kind of logic, I knew I had to cease and desist immediately, and carry the peace of mind stemming from knowing I had done all I could to warn of the imminent train crash.

That, of course, is not the only problem we’re having to face. There’s the fact that, unlike other browsers, it’s impossible to run more than one version of IE on the same computer, and like it or not, we’re heading into what I expect will be a long period of transition between IE6 and IE7. My employer has benefitted from Microsoft’s decision not to touch significantly its IE software for five years; this inaction provided a constant in an environment that’s usually void of constants. But starting in the new year when supposedly we will be “allowed” to support IE7, the significant interface differences between IE6 and IE7 and the inability to run both at once is going to force us to find ways of de facto supporting more than one browser, which is something I think we should have been doing all along.

Enters the fact that my main computer, TextStyle1, is slated for replacement. By yesterday, I decided that I need to have access to two computers for my day job — one with IE6 and one with IE7 — and if my contract does end in a few months, it won’t be as though I bought another computer expressly for the day job. This initiative on my part is a damn sweet deal for my employer, and I don’t know what my colleagues will do. But all of this does bring to the fore the folly of believing that putting all your eggs in the Microsoft basket is an assurance of smooth sailing. Had my employer been adapting to all major operating systems and browser platforms as we’ve been going along, even though that would have made providing support a lot more complicated, we wouldn’t be in this mess …at least, not as deeply.

So, resigned to the fact I had to do what I had to do, I enacted my plan of attack and this happened

{1} Thought on “This Time M$ Goes Too Far

  1. I found and use a stand-alone version of Internet Explorer 6 you do not even need to install to run. It is quite useful for compatibility testing on machines with IE 7 installed.

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