Think of the users, Microsoft

Last week, Microsoft released the third beta version of Windows Live Writer, its free software that lets you write and publish posts to your blog from your PC rather than having to log in to your blog.

I use WLW and think it’s a terrific application.

With beta 3, the method of installing the software has changed somewhat from previous betas. The installer is the new Windows Live installer, and how it behaves has upset a number of people.

What happens is this. You download the installer and run it. As you’d expect, WLW is the program selected for installation. What you wouldn’t expect is to see a bunch of other programs also selected for installation.

In other words, you haven’t chosen to install those other programs but you’ll get them unless you explicitly un-check the little box for each program.

And those other programs are quite a lot – Messenger, Mail, Toolbar, Photo Gallery, Family Safety and, depending on your version of Windows, Desktop Search.

Here’s a screenshot of the installer that I ran, after I’d un-checked all those little boxes:


It’s pretty disingenuous to see a line of text that says “Select any additional products you want to install” when all of those products have already been pre-selected by the software developer. That really does upset some people.

I just find it irritating (or is that the same thing?).

Now I don’t happen to think that this is that big of a deal. It’s easy enough to uncheck those boxes – which means you need to pay close attention to the screens as they appear – and you move on.

But wouldn’t it be better if software publishers like Microsoft did it right from the start? If they didn’t offer you an installer for one product and then snuck in a bunch of other stuff that you didn’t opt in to get?

Isn’t this in the same yuk pile as spam email? You know, the stuff you get that offers you a link so you can opt out although you never opted in in the first place?

Microsoft, think of your total offering from the user’s point of view. You have a great product with WLW yet getting it onto your computer is not a good experience.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I install a program that also pre-selects other things, my automatic reaction is to de-select all that other stuff straightaway. That’s how I deal with the irritation.

Microsoft’s not the only guilty party. Others do it, too. Think about Real and Yahoo, for instance. Some are even worse – other apps actually get installed whether you want them or not.

Tom Raftery is one who has a strong view about this issue. While I don’t agree with Tom that this is an ethics issue, I do agree that it’s pretty poor behaviour that Microsoft ought to change.

And if it is common practice in the software business, as Microsoft’s Kris Hoet says, then here’s your chance, Microsoft, to take a lead and force a change, for your own products at least.

Your marketing people may not like it – and let’s face it, the auto-opt-you-in approach must be marketing driven – but it’s a good PR opportunity for you, apart from anything else.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Tom Raftery

    Thanks for the mention and links Neville.

    As you say, whether it is strictly speaking unethical or not, this kind of behaviour leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

    It smacks of Microsoft trying to trick people into using Live Search (banking on th vast majority of people simply clicking Next->Next->Next until the app is installed and then not knowing how to change their browser’s default search engine).

    This is the kind of behaviour which validates people’s mistrust of Microsoft .

  2. Kris Hoet

    Hey Neville – First of all great to see you’re a happy WLW user, I can only acknowledge the quality of the app ;)

    To the point of the opt out, I’m not sure what is right or wrong. The whole industry uses it and probably for a reason, and I just wonder why we’re the ones that get slammed for it where we’re probably even among the last to adopt the tactic anyway.

    – Kris (Microsoft)

  3. neville

    Good point re trust, Tom. Trust is at the heart of this matter.

    Kris, it is a good product. I love this beta. I’ve experienced the improvements beta by beta. That’s testament to good development and listening to user feedback via the WLW forum, blogs, etc.

    On the opt out, that’s what’s wrong. In effect, the developer has opted me in without my permission. So I have to opt out? Wrong. I want to opt in if that’s my choice. And here’s the point – it’s my choice not yours.

    The reason why some (not everyone) in the software industry do this? Because it’s likely that most/many people will just click on the install screen and passively accept what’s offered, if they even notice what’s going in with installation.

    Whether it’s been an industry practice for a while, it’s just bad practice. Please stop it.

    Here’s my suggestion for when WLW is released – make sure all those little boxes are unchecked by default. Then the wording above those options is no longer disingenuous.

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