Tag Archives: Real Networks

Sneaky Software: AOL’s Bad

It seems that even the big players still don’t get it. StopBadware, a “neighborhood watch” for sneaky software, says that the latest (9.0) version of AOL software

installs additional software without telling the user, it forces the user to take certain actions, it adds various components to Internet Explorer and the taskbar without disclosure, it may automatically update without the user’s consent, and it fails to uninstall completely.

Pretty damning stuff. We know this kind of thing happens but this seems to be somewhat excessive. Most damning are the bundled programs installed without permission, or even informing the user: RealPlayer (surprise, surprise), QuickTime, AOL You’ve Got Pictures Screensaver, Pure Networks Port Magic, and Viewpoint Media Player. “During the installation process,” StopBadware says, “the user is never clearly notified that AOL will be installing these programs.”

StopBadware quotes AOL as saying that they are reviewing the report.

Companies have got to stop this kind of thing. This report is damning in that it’s clearly not just one oversight: The software has been designed to be as invasive as possible, to basically take over the user’s computer and steer them to all things AOL. That Apple and Real Networks allow themselves to be involved does not reflect on either well. And after some difficulty uninstalling it I’m beginning to have my suspicions about Network Magic (Pure Networks Port Magic is an AOL version of the software) too.

Goodbye To The Browser?

Here’s some more interesting end-of-year stuff from Nielsen//NetRatings: a report issued today (PDF file) says that three out of every four home and work Internet users access the Internet using a non-browser based Internet application, particularly media players, instant messengers and file sharing applications. “With 76 percent of Web surfers using Internet applications, functionality has grown beyond the browser to become a fundamental piece of the overall desktop,” said Abha Bhagat, senior analyst Nielsen//NetRatings. “It’s become harder to distinguish when you’re on the Internet, blurring the lines between what’s sitting on the desktop and what’s coming from the World Wide Web.”

According to the report, the top five applications are Windows Media Player, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger Service and Real Player. Of these top five applications, Windows Media has the largest active user reach at 34 percent. AOL Instant Messenger was next at 20 percent, followed by Real Player also at 20 percent, MSN Messenger Service at 19 percent and Yahoo! Messenger Service, which reaches 12 percent of the active user base.

Interesting. But what does it actually tell us? First off, we shouldn’t get confused by the data. This doesn’t mean that folks are eschewing the browser, just that a lot of other programs are also connecting to the Internet (where is e-mail in all this?). Second, if Real Networks and MSN Messenger are anything to go by, a lot of these programs access the Internet without the user doing anything (or even knowing about it) so does this actually count? Lastly, there’s been plenty written already about how Microsoft is moving past the browser to incorporate similar functionality into its Office and other products — say Microsoft Word 2003’s Research Pane, for example — so it’s clear the big boys would have us move to more proprietary, locked-in environments, which all of the top five applications have in common. We’re not so much witnessing a demographic change as a deliberate shove by the main players.

My wish list? I’d like to see all of these players stop hoodwinking the end-user by loading their programs into the start-up queue automatically (you know who you are). It’s deliberately misleading (read: sleazy), it hogs resources and it skews data like Nielsen’s. I’d also like to see AOL, MSN and Yahoo all agree to share their instant messaging lists so folk like me don’t have to use great alternatives like Trillian to pull together our disparate buddy networks (Trillian will lump all your different Instant Messaging accounts into one easy to view window, minus all the ads and annoying pop-ups).

I see no danger in the browser gradually being phased out for plenty of web-related tasks. But, if the Internet has really become ‘part of the desktop’ let’s try to make it a place where ordinary folk can hang out without too much hassle.