Default Search Wars and a new OS feature

I read this article today about how Google’s Toolbar takes an aggressive stand against someone changing the “default search” provider in IE. Wow – this is pretty aggressive!

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Now, I’m sure people will start yelling at Microsoft, and maybe that is deserved. For the record though, Microsoft’s software doesn’t do this (yet).

Anyway, this problem of “software wars” is not new. And the OS should protect the poor user from it.

It all starts with a Cold War
During the Cold War, two competing programs will, invariably, put an option into their installers to override the competitor’s settings. Engineers, like me, at each company will complain that this is terrible and should never be done, but we are always overridden by business folks that are smarter.

Once the cold war starts, it begins to escalate. First, one side will make it so that the software *always* overrides the competitor’s settings, without giving the user a choice. Then, the other will respond with something equally clever, like additional popup warnings or something silly like that.

Eventually, the cold war turns into an all out war, with users as the casualties. In this phase, the product is installing executables on your system which run constantly just to monitor for the competitor’s software and do something different. Sadly, Google’s Toolbar has entered this phase.

How to Fix?
The operating system really ought to protect against this more readily. Why is it that one program can alter another program’s config without the user even knowing about it? It shouldn’t be allowed. So when any competitor changes the default IE settings, the OS ought to tell the user that this has happened, and let the user deal with it. It prevents any surruptitious altering of configurations, and educates the user at the same time. If we had this, the cold war probably never would start- because if either side instigated, the users would be able to knowingly protest immediately.

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