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Search Helper Extension

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  • User profile image
    mstefan

    Has anyone actually figured out what the heck this thing does?

    http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2010/06/microsoft-slips-ie-firefox-add-on-into-toolbar-update.ars

     

    The Knowledge Base article is just ridiculous. The might as well have written it as "This update does something vague and unexplained. When this update is installed, various unspecified things related to searching may or may not be improved. Here is a list of the files included in the update that we have described in the most obtuse way possible..."

     

    And then it proceeds to silently install addons for both IE and Firefox. Of course, the Firefox people are up in arms because Microsoft is reaching in and installing "important" updates for a non-Microsoft product, aren't asking for permission and don't provide a simple way to uninstall it (the "uninstall" button is disabled in the list of Firefox addons). If this really was an important update, it'd be nice to know exactly what it's doing. 

  • User profile image
    AndyC

    So, let me get this straight.

     

    If you choose to install the Bing toolbar (from Microsoft) and then you choose to install the update (also from Microsoft), another extension to firefox gets installed as part of the fix. So, Microsoft are updating a Microsoft product in the least stealthy way you can possible.

     

    And the issue is, exactly?

     

     

  • User profile image
    mstefan

    AndyC said:

    So, let me get this straight.

     

    If you choose to install the Bing toolbar (from Microsoft) and then you choose to install the update (also from Microsoft), another extension to firefox gets installed as part of the fix. So, Microsoft are updating a Microsoft product in the least stealthy way you can possible.

     

    And the issue is, exactly?

     

     

    The issues? There are several:

     

    1. I do not have, and never at any time, have had the Bing toolbar installed on my system. Never. This goes for any other toolbar-ish products from any vendor (no MSN, no Yahoo!, no Google toolbars). And yet, Microsoft has installed this update on my machine for reasons known only to them.

     

    2. This update was flagged as important, which tends to indicate that it's related to core functionality of the operating system or a security issue (based on the description, something to do with "searching"). At the very least, this should have been flagged as an optional update.

     

    3. This update did not just install an add-on for IE, but also for Firefox. Which, the last time that I checked, was not a Microsoft product. Modifying third-party software without the user's consent is not good. Period. If they wanted to provide an add-in for Firefox, there's already a mechanism to do this through Firefox. Because it's their operating system, it doesn't give them carte blanche to start installing addons and/or reconfiguring software from other vendors.

     

    4. The knowledge base article that describes what this update supposedly does is laughably obtuse. Smarter folks than myself over at Ars don't know what the heck it does, and apparently not even Microsoft support people know either because all they do is point you back to the same, uninformative KB article.

     

     

  • User profile image
    AndyC

    mstefan said:
    AndyC said:
    *snip*

    The issues? There are several:

     

    1. I do not have, and never at any time, have had the Bing toolbar installed on my system. Never. This goes for any other toolbar-ish products from any vendor (no MSN, no Yahoo!, no Google toolbars). And yet, Microsoft has installed this update on my machine for reasons known only to them.

     

    2. This update was flagged as important, which tends to indicate that it's related to core functionality of the operating system or a security issue (based on the description, something to do with "searching"). At the very least, this should have been flagged as an optional update.

     

    3. This update did not just install an add-on for IE, but also for Firefox. Which, the last time that I checked, was not a Microsoft product. Modifying third-party software without the user's consent is not good. Period. If they wanted to provide an add-in for Firefox, there's already a mechanism to do this through Firefox. Because it's their operating system, it doesn't give them carte blanche to start installing addons and/or reconfiguring software from other vendors.

     

    4. The knowledge base article that describes what this update supposedly does is laughably obtuse. Smarter folks than myself over at Ars don't know what the heck it does, and apparently not even Microsoft support people know either because all they do is point you back to the same, uninformative KB article.

     

     

    1. You can't even install the Microsoft update unless you have the Search Enhancement Pack installed. Maybe you installed it as part of one of the Live products, Messenger etc.

     

    2. It was an important update to the Search Enchancement Pack. I see nothing wrong with flagging it as such. Unless you are advocating that Microsoft should, unlike any other vendor, be unable to provide security updates and fixes in any of their products.

     

    3. It did not "modify" a third party application. It updated the extension already installed. If you use an application that allows third party plug-ins, then you a naturally going to get those updated by third parties. It's kind of inevitable. Do you complain if AdBlock or Flash some other plugin receives an automatic update?

     

    4. "In an Internet browser, you specify a homepage that is not a fully qualified URL. However, Windows Live Toolbar, MSN Toolbar, or Bing Bar may not categorize your homepage correctly. Therefore, the homepage reporting may be generated incorrectly for users who select the Help improve our services option when they install these toolbars." -  seems pretty clear to me. Which bit don't you get?

     

  • User profile image
    Cannot​Resolve​Symbol

    AndyC said:
    mstefan said:
    *snip*

    1. You can't even install the Microsoft update unless you have the Search Enhancement Pack installed. Maybe you installed it as part of one of the Live products, Messenger etc.

     

    2. It was an important update to the Search Enchancement Pack. I see nothing wrong with flagging it as such. Unless you are advocating that Microsoft should, unlike any other vendor, be unable to provide security updates and fixes in any of their products.

     

    3. It did not "modify" a third party application. It updated the extension already installed. If you use an application that allows third party plug-ins, then you a naturally going to get those updated by third parties. It's kind of inevitable. Do you complain if AdBlock or Flash some other plugin receives an automatic update?

     

    4. "In an Internet browser, you specify a homepage that is not a fully qualified URL. However, Windows Live Toolbar, MSN Toolbar, or Bing Bar may not categorize your homepage correctly. Therefore, the homepage reporting may be generated incorrectly for users who select the Help improve our services option when they install these toolbars." -  seems pretty clear to me. Which bit don't you get?

     

    3. It did not "modify" a third party application. It updated the extension already installed. If you use an application that allows third party plug-ins, then you a naturally going to get those updated by third parties. It's kind of inevitable. Do you complain if AdBlock or Flash some other plugin receives an automatic update?

     

    (1) This add-on gets installed even if the Bing toolbar is not installed in Firefox (it could be installed only in IE and the add-on still gets installed, or Firefox could be installed for the first time after the update is installed and the add-on will magically appear.

     

    (2) Firefox already provides a built-in way for extension authors to update their plugins right inside Firefox.  Microsoft is running off and doing their own thing.

     

    4. "In an Internet browser, you specify a homepage that is not a fully qualified URL. However, Windows Live Toolbar, MSN Toolbar, or Bing Bar may not categorize your homepage correctly. Therefore, the homepage reporting may be generated incorrectly for users who select the Help improve our services option when they install these toolbars." -  seems pretty clear to me. Which bit don't you get?

     

    Why this requires installing an add-on to a browser which may not even have the toolbar installed?  Why they are installing more add-ons at all when they should be patching the toolbars themselves?

  • User profile image
    mstefan

    AndyC said:
    mstefan said:
    *snip*

    1. You can't even install the Microsoft update unless you have the Search Enhancement Pack installed. Maybe you installed it as part of one of the Live products, Messenger etc.

     

    2. It was an important update to the Search Enchancement Pack. I see nothing wrong with flagging it as such. Unless you are advocating that Microsoft should, unlike any other vendor, be unable to provide security updates and fixes in any of their products.

     

    3. It did not "modify" a third party application. It updated the extension already installed. If you use an application that allows third party plug-ins, then you a naturally going to get those updated by third parties. It's kind of inevitable. Do you complain if AdBlock or Flash some other plugin receives an automatic update?

     

    4. "In an Internet browser, you specify a homepage that is not a fully qualified URL. However, Windows Live Toolbar, MSN Toolbar, or Bing Bar may not categorize your homepage correctly. Therefore, the homepage reporting may be generated incorrectly for users who select the Help improve our services option when they install these toolbars." -  seems pretty clear to me. Which bit don't you get?

     

    The only part of Live that I have installed is Messenger. So clearly this has more to do than just with the Bing toolbar. And as pointed out, it's also installed on systems with Firefox that don't have the toolbar installed.

     

    What you and I consider to be important seem to be two dramatically different things. To me, "important" means that the update addresses a security or stability problem with the operating system. I do not classify Microsoft's ability to harvest data better from the "improve our services" option as anything that's even remotely critical to the function of the system.

     

    And yes, as mentioned, it did indeed modify a third-party application. Firefox users had this update installed even though they never used the Bing toolbar in Firefox. And to make matters even worse, Microsoft doesn't make it simple to uninstall because they've intentionally disabled that option. You have to dig around and delete the files manually. There's a mechanism in place for providing addons to Firefox users. What Microsoft did ain't it.

     

    And that description from the KB article doesn't tell us what it actually does. What does "categorize your homepage" mean? Exactly what kind of reporting issue did this fix, and why in the world is anything related to the "Help improve our services" option being classified as an important update? Was there a flaw that exposed some kind of vulnerability in the Bing toolbar? And if so, why in the world not fix the toolbar itself rather than slapping yet another addon into the browser? It's clear as mud to me.

     

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