Many Windows Users Get Unwanted Updates

What better gift could Apple ask for with the launch of its “Leopard” Mac OS X v. 10.5? How about a PR disaster surrounding Windows? That’s what Microsoft could have on its hands thanks to the second incident in as many months involving Windows Update.

Last month, Windows bloggers and news sites began reporting that they’d noticed Windows Update, the utility that downloads and installs fixes from Microsoft, was surreptitiously updating Windows machines.

A few weeks later, users alleged that there had been an unannounced change: Windows Update patched itself without informing the user, and according to critics, broke Windows Update in the process.

Now there’s new anger over a new product update being pushed out, even if people don’t run Windows Update. The product revision in question is Windows Desktop Search 3.01 (WDS), which Microsoft had been pushing out with Windows Live automatically. Some users charge that it seems as if the new version is being pushed out with any Windows update.

What’s worse, users claim that once WDS is installed, it begins indexing the computer. If a user tries to uninstall the feature, it forces the computer to reboot (no reboot had been required when WDS was initially installed) and then tries to reinstall itself again, when they go to Windows Update.

WDS is installed not only on desktop computers but servers as well. This is keeping the WDS support board very busy.

Microsoft declined to comment when contacted by However, the Windows Server Update Service (WSUS) group confirmed in a blog posting that some users were seeing unexpected updates.

According to the post, WSUS automatically auto-approves updates to existing products by default, and WSUS assumed in this case that WDS was a revision to software already installed on the user’s computer.

“So what happened with this revision and why did it seemingly deploy itself to all systems in [your] environment?” WSUS Project Manager Bobbie Harder wrote in the post. “WSUS by default is set to auto-approve update revisions to minimize administrative overhead and make sure distribution ‘just works’ … it may have appeared as if this update was deployed without approval. The initial version of the update would have had to have been approved, and the ‘auto-approve revisions’ option on (by default) in order for this revision to have also been approved and deployed.”

Despite the Windows Update team’s response, Microsoft is still getting an earful, particularly from admins who have to remove WDS from all their office computers.

“Let’s see 172 desktops to uninstall WDS; WSUS turned off per management. [sic] Oh yeah, declined update pushed to all deskstops [sic] anyway. Of course I trust innovative Microsoft! I don’t mind so much that you guys look like bozos. I do mind when you get me on the bus,” one angry user wrote on Microsoft’s support boards.

“Microsoft, what gives? What gives you the right to update our computers without our permission? What made you think that adding the ability to override our setting in WSUS was a good idea?” another asked.

Mike Cherry, lead Windows analyst for Directions on Microsoft, seemed no less displeased.

“Fundamentally what I’m hearing and what bothers me the most is that Microsoft keeps thinking it knows what’s best for me, and I didn’t put them in that position,” he told

The issue for Microsoft becomes one of credibility and trustworthiness, Cherry added. “If you believe the customer should be in control of their computer, then you should leave them in control of their computer. If Microsoft can’t get that right, why should you believe them for their privacy policy or any other promise they make?” he said.

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