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by Joel Spolsky
Thursday, February 17, 2005

Usability Time! When Microsoft AntiSpyware is running it displays this dialog:

Dialog box from Microsoft AntiSpyware, containing the text 'Detected Spyware on your system:'

... which looks, to me, like it's telling me that it detected spyware on my system.

Oh, wait! No, that's not it, it's just a lazy programmer who wrote this code:

10 PRINT "DETECTED SPYWARE ON YOUR SYSTEM:"
20 FOR I = 1 TO 1000000000
30 IF SPYWARE(I) THEN PRINT FILENAME(I)
40 NEXT I

I think I get it. It's the heading for a list which has not arrived yet because you're still busy scanning my harddrive searching for spyware which I don't have. The usual programmer mentality ("it's just a list with 0 elements, what's so hard to understand about that?"). Hey guys, next time don't use a message that's only one pixel away from telling me the exact wrong fact about whether or not there's spyware on my system.

So far, it looks like this is a nifty program, and consumers should be happy that Microsoft has announced it will be free, but it really, really would have been nice for us here in the software industry if Microsoft had set a price on this thing just to provide some air cover for the other companies working on spyware removal. This is not a software category where a monopoly monoculture will be a good thing.

Not only that, but I wonder if Microsoft can run an antispyware product without huge conflicts of interest. For example, will they block all the spyware that Real installs on your system? While Real is suing them? Especially when blocking spyware from Real will just give Real more ammunition to use against Microsoft in court? And the next time Microsoft needs a DRM favor from your friendly neighborhood media conglomerate, will the media conglomerate demand exemption from Antispyware removal for their adware in exchange for supporting Windows Media 37.0, with the new brain-zapping feature that prevents you from humming any song unless you bought the performance rights? (A sheet of tinfoil wrapped tightly around your skull is effective against this zapper, I understand.)

I understand that Microsoft wants to help customers who feel like a spyware-free operating system should be your right when you pay for WinXP, but it's a shame that by giving it away free they're likely to wipe out a useful industry and replace it with something that's difficult to trust due to conflicts of interest.


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