HNT: Respect Your Customers

How Not To: Respect Your Customers

A while ago, Microsoft added a new “high-priority update” for Windows XP to their Windows Update site. Note that, since it is marked as a high priority, this particular update will be automatically downloaded and installed on all Windows XP systems configured to use its Automatic Updates feature, so most users will have no idea that it was installed.

This little update is called, euphemistically, Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications, and it is described in KB905474. It is an application that checks to see if you have a pirated copy of XP and, if so, attempts to sell you a legal one. In Microsoft marketing department language:

“The Windows Genuine Advantage Notification tool notifies you if your copy of Windows is not genuine. If your system is found to be a[sic] non-genuine, the tool will help you obtain a licensed copy of Windows.”

According to the web page, if you voluntarily (knowingly or not) download this little application, and it detects (correctly or not) that a copy of XP is not genuine, it 1) notifies you at every logon and tries to sell you Windows, 2) puts another icon in your taskbar (“an icon will be available…”) with balloon notifications, and 3) locks your desktop to display a message about software counterfeiting.

Of course, I spend hundreds of dollars each year to have the latest, and fully licensed, Microsoft operating systems, so assuming this works correctly and recognizes my genuineness, what does this do for me, a paying customer? Let’s see. It runs another application in the background, hidden from me but stealing processing time. Oh, Goody! It also cannot be uninstalled.

In other words, this “update” treats me as a criminal and puts my machine at risk of the whims and mistakes of Microsoft. It provides me nothing of value whatsoever. This may be good for them, assuming that anybody using a pirated copy of XP gives a damn, but a legitimate customer should not be subject to such treatment. Oh, sure, somebody who bought their machine from a dishonest vendor who gave them an illegal copy may get caught, but that does not justify an uninstallable application being surreptitiously added to a system.

The story could end there, but it does not. Yesterday [June 14, 2006], Microsoft updated the application, so even those of us who told Windows Update to quit notifying us of this, now have to do it again (“… until a new release of the Notification Update is released”). I do not use the word “hide” in this respect, because it does anything but hide the update. Instead, every time I open Windows Update, I am greeted with the following message:

You’ve hidden important updates
You’ve asked us not to show you one or more high-priority updates but your computer might be at risk until they are installed.”

This is a lie. This update is only “important” to Microsoft; it is meaningless (at best) to paying customers. Classifying it as “high-priority” is inappropriate, and suggesting that my computer is at risk without it is simply wrong.

Do not get me wrong here. I despise software pirates, and I would like to see more prosecutions and appropriately severe punishments for willful copyright infringement. I also like Microsoft, earn a living using their software, and have even worked on a game for them, so I am not bent on their destruction or anything like that. However, I cannot help but feel insulted, first, and then just angry at such behavior. This is definitely an example of how not to respect paying customers.

Right now, I am going to work on a Macintosh, writing a game for Apple OSX. I am currently feeling more motivated to do so, far more than to work on any of my Windows games at the moment. Seriously.

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