On Friday, word came in that Apple was slipping a little Safari install into its latest automatic Apple Software Update. Needless to say, the weekend witnessed an explosion of discussion, complaint, defence and lament – pretty much like when Apple does anything else. Ever.
But the most interesting of all the fiery backlashes comes from Mozilla CEO, John Lilly. On his personal blog, he broadly criticises Apple’s move, stating:
“It’s wrong because it undermines the trust that we’re all trying to build with users. Because it means that an update isn’t just an update, but is maybe something more. Because it ultimately undermines the safety of users on the web by eroding that relationship. It’s a bad practice and should stop.”
Of course, the obvious danger of taking this statement at face value is that Mozilla and its main product, Firefox, is having its market share threatened by this move. But he does have a point…
Having missed the excitement kicking off at the start of the weekend, I was only introduced to the whole thing this morning, when sure enough Apple Software Update kicked in and asked me to perform an install. Bleary eyed and not really concentrating on what was going on, my brain barely registered the word ‘Safari’ before I had hit ‘Install’.
And just like that Apple had achieved exactly what its master plan intended. Lilly is basically right that this undermines my trust in updates: I trusted Apple updates to get on and do their thing without me having to do more than blithely click ‘Install’ every once in a while.
But as for whether it “undermines the safety of users on the web”. Pah. Since when were users on the web ever actually safe? There are probably about a hundred million websites out there trying to make you download and install their dodgy software, sneak viruses and Trojans into your computer and/or steal your personal details. If we were ever building up to a relationship of trust with the ‘internet’ as a whole then that sorely needs to be nipped in the bud.
Even some of the more ‘trusted’ sources will still desperately try and slip you a Yahoo toolbar or something else that you definitely did not ask for when you hit download.
Most people using the web probably don’t have the first idea which is the best software to use and why, nor where to get it from. That of course doesn’t have to spell disaster, but the more precaution they take over their downloading habits, the safer they’ll be. Apple’s tactics serve as a timely reminder to not get too complacent – every company has an agenda to push.
John Lilly’s main concerns is that this sly manoeuvre might crush people’s faith in general software updates. He may have a point there, and it would be a serious problem if users stopped updating software, particularly where PC security is involved. But even a so-called ‘update’ is still a potential security loophole in your machine and a little bit more precaution can’t be all bad.
As a result, the only trust that should be undermined by this affair is trust in Apple. But in fairness, once Safari had nestled itself on my machine, it didn’t attempt to hijack any of my browser functions and it didn’t take more than a minute to remove it again. It didn’t really leave the feeling that I had been tricked badly. In fact, even if I had left it to just sit there, I would have hard time even finding the program in that mess we call the Vista start bar.
In the end, there’s not a lot left to worry about now. What else is Apple going to be sneaking on to my PC other than Safari? Mac OS X Leopard maybe? Actually, that would be nice – it would sure beat the crap out of Vista.
Safari (via ZDNet)