Why Microsoft will fail

Poor Microsoft. The phrase "caught between a rock and a hard place" tells exactly where they are right now. The "rock" here is that Microsoft desperately needs to fix the horrible security they are famous for and the "hard place" is that their user base doesn't want them to do that.

Oh, of course the Microsoft users want to be secure. They are sick to death of worrying about viruses and zero day attacks. They are sick of virus software bogging down their work. Users WANT security. They just don't want to have to do any work.

Microsoft went a long way toward fixing security with Vista. They added User Access Controls (UAC) that pestered users with "Do you want to allow this action?" type prompts. Users hate them and no wonder: most of the time we have no idea WHY we are being asked such questions or what the effect might be if we answer yes or no.

The complaints about this feature were legion. Everybody hated them. Even people who should know better want them gone: ItWire, writing about how Windows 7 may well be a do or die effort, begs

please no more endless UAC dialogue boxes

Microsoft, ever anxious to satisfy its customers, decided that users should have control of this feature. After all, if you are always going to just hold the door open and invite any program that asks to do as it pleases, why bother to ask? So Windows 7 includes user settings to eliminate those silly questions. Do I want stuff to just install? Why, yes, thanks. Ask me no questions and I won't have to admit my woeful ignorance.

But - oops! - apparently someone has found a way to change those setting without your knowledge: Code aims to bypass UAC security in Windows 7 says that two kids came up with a way to do that. That's not too surprising by itself, but Microsoft's reaction is. They say that's OK: (from Microsoft Denies Windows 7 UAC Vulnerability)

"However, Microsoft is standing by the change to UAC's default setting, saying it was the result of "a great deal of usability feedback on UAC prompting behavior," and that the feature cannot be exploited unless there is already malicious code running on the machine and "something else has already been breached.""

Well, yeah, and we all know THAT will never happen.

Just some other random thoughts:

  • - IBM would dearly love to squish Microsoft between the high and the low end of the market, and they are aggressively pushing Linux at both ends. I think the idea is that Microsoft becomes the toothpaste..
  • - Folks are getting concerned about Microsoft's closed security model. Code Red sure is contributing. A recent article in Computer World quoted several people as saying they plan to move off Microsoft at least for Web servers.
  • - The Dept. of Justice may have screwed up this time, but the States aren't giving up and my bet is that DOJ will try again anyway. Microsoft is too much the bully to get away with this forever.
  • - In spite of licenses that say they are blameless, surely someday somebody is going to succeed with a suit for damages from lost business. It may be someone damaged collaterally- e.g., someone flooded with Code Red messages from compromised Microsoft servers- Microsoft's licensing has nothing to do with that. I am not a lawyer, of course, but I've always admired their creativity in such matters.
  • - Other countries, like China as a great big example, don't like Microsoft (just because it's a U.S. company) and are quite likely to move to Linux officially or just de facto. The influence of those markets will only make Linux stronger here because of the increased incentive to port for the millions and millions of customers.
  • - I buy a few shares of Microsoft every month. Given the whimsical playfulness that the gods have exhibited toward every other effort I have made to amass wealth, I can almost guarantee that the company is heading for the big flush Real Soon Now. Nothing would make me happier than to lose every dime I have in their stock.

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© Anthony Lawrence

Tue Feb 3 21:18:08 2009: 5291   BrettLegree

Maybe Microsoft should read your last couple of posts on virtualization... :)

Thank the gods for Fusion on my Mac, when I just can't do without that Windows app. And for my work laptop - well, tis their problem we run XP and IE6... I am a "good boy" and keep my data on the servers, so at least when - not if, but when - the whole house of cards crashes down, I can point to the procedure and say "not my fault!"

Your choice of words ("They just don't want to have to do any work.") seems very appropriate. I was saying to a friend of mine (Eyeteaguy) one time, "is it just me or is the average user less computer saavy today than they were in the days of DOS?" - and I know the answer is "yes".

People seem to want everything to just work, and be absolved of any responsibility when it does not...

Tue Feb 3 22:00:07 2009: 5292   yungchin

Haha, there was this poll on the Dutch forum "tweakers.net" about the issue (see (link) but it's in Dutch), and about a third of the 7500+ respondents replied "Who cares? I already disabled UAC anyway..."

Tue Feb 3 22:08:24 2009: 5294   TonyLawrence

While exactly what I'd expect, it still makes me shake my head!

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