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SP2 confounds the world

Sep 13, 20044 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsSecurity

Goof Department: Regarding last week’s column on The SCO Group and my digression into O. J. Simpson’s trials, reader Harold Burstyn, an attorney, wrote in to point out that “neither was a ‘federal case.’ Both the criminal trial for murder and the civil trial for wrongful death were in California courts.” I am guilty as charged, m’lud. But I did point out that I am not a lawyer, and neither is my editor.

Anyway, the other day I fired up my desktop machine and Microsoft’s mega update, Service Pack 2, was ready to install. Whirr, whirr, clunk, clunk, reboot . . . it was done.

While I didn’t experience the horror of my machine not firing up properly as has been the sad fate of some people, the number of applications that are broken by this patch are amazing.

It busted one utility that I particularly like called Infotriever from Infotriever, Inc. I first stumbled across this tool when I booked the flights for my forthcoming Network World Technology Tour, “Strategy & Management for Messaging & Spam.”

(Shameless Plug Department: The Spam Tour, as it is affectionately called, will be in Atlanta on Sept. 21, New York on Sept. 23, Dallas on Sept. 28 and Denver on Sept. 30)

Anyway, the travel service that Network World uses provides a link to a Web page that lists your flights and so on. On that page is an icon and the words “Add to your calendar.” If you haven’t already done so, the Infotriever application is downloaded and the travel items are added to your personal information manager (that includes Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes and Best Software’s Act!).

While writing about Infotriever in my Network World Web newsletter, I uninstalled Infotriever.

(Another shameless plug: Sign up for my Web Applications newsletter. And check out the archives)

Uninstalling Infotriever turned out to be a big mistake because when I tried to reinstall it, it failed. Worse, it failed mysteriously with strange tiny and empty Internet Explorer windows popping up and vanishing followed by messages that didn’t help.

As it turns out, the problem stemmed from the newfound aggressive security features in SP2. The answer is simple enough – click on the small and unobtrusive new status bar in Internet Explorer at the top of the browser display area, just below the tool bars, and click on the button to allow the ActiveX control to install.

(Idle Question Department: Why does Microsoft keep adding to the Windows user interface? Tooltips, bubble pop-ups from the start menu, the system tray, and on and on, and now the security status bar in Internet Explorer. Over the last few years the inventory of user interface fripperies has grown to the point where, unless you have a screen up in the 1,024-by-960-pixel range, there’s more user interface gunk than usable space!)

While my problem was trivial, things are tough for all the vendors out there whose software is broken by Microsoft’s improvements. They are being deluged with support calls as to why their software isn’t working.

Now should SP2 automatically enable such restrictions without educating the user? Should it use such a low-key way to inform the user of what is going on when there is a problem?

How difficult would it have been for SP2 to make sure the user is aware of what is going on when it is installed, let him select the level of security he wants, and provide him with choices for the degree to which the new notifications will be “in your face”?

While we should applaud Microsoft for doing something positive about security, I find it depressing that the richest software company in the world can’t get the usability issues sorted out.

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Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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