Microsoft forced a popular alternative to Windows Update off the Internet today, sending the maker of AutoPatcher cease-and-desist e-mail. The free utility has been removed from its download site.
Microsoft did not give a reason for the move, which came more than four years after AutoPatcher debuted.
"Today we received an e-mail from Microsoft, requesting the immediate take-down of the download page, which of course means that AutoPatcher is probably history," said Antonis Kaladis, the 20-year-old Greek college student and author of the program. "As much as we disagree, we can do very little, and although the download page is merely a collection of mirrors, we took the download page down."
AutoPatcher, which was in version 5.6, let users collect Windows hotfixes and security patches from Microsoft's update services, then package them so they could be applied to multiple machines, or reused multiple times on a single PC. It was especially popular among people who frequently reformatted drives or those who did informal tech support for friends and family, or in a small business.
Each month, the current set of Windows' -- and as of this month, Office's as well -- updates and hotfixes would be added to the packages. The program supported Windows 2000, XP, Vista and Server 2003. This month, Kaladis and his team of volunteers added support for Office XP, 2003 and 2007.
The Microsoft take-down e-mail was posted to the Neowin.net forum that AutoPatcher used for its user support. "Microsoft has received information that the domain listed above (www.autopatcher.com/downloads/), which appears to be on servers under your control, is offering unlicensed copies of, or is engaged in other unauthorized activities relating to copyrighted works published by Microsoft," the e-mail read.
"We hereby give notice of these activities to you and request that you take expeditious action to remove or disable access to the material described above, and thereby prevent the illegal reproduction and distribution of this software via your company's network," it continued after listing various versions of Windows and Office. The e-mail was signed by a Peter Anaman, a Microsoft Internet investigator.
Users of AutoPatcher were, not surprisingly, hot. "I cannot believe that Microsoft did this," Andrew Lucas said in a response to Kaladis' posting of the news. "You are providing a service Microsoft refuses to do. It has now been over 3 years since Microsoft released SP2 for XP."
"The end of AutoPatcher is the end of my use of any Windows product, period," swore a user identified only as KMan.
Other users -- lots of others -- literally swore at Microsoft in the comments attached to Kaladis' post, or on the Neowin forum. More than a few however, took a more c'est la guerre approach to AutoPatcher's demise. "I don't get why everyone is so annoyed, I'm shocked auto-patcher was allowed to continue for so long in the first place. Is anyone really surprised by this?" asked a user calling himself kudos in a post to Neowin.
Microsoft has dealt similar cease-and-desist orders to other patch-related Web sites or services in the past. In April, it leaned on Hotfix.net, whose operator Ethan Allen had posted more than 100 hotfixes he expected would be part of Vista SP1. Coincidentally, Vista SP1 was talked up by Microsoft today. Allen also complied by yanking the download.
Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment.