Thinking about upgrading to IE8? Think twice

By bribes or brute force, Microsoft is attempting to foist its latest browser upon the world. If you're not careful it might happen to you, too

I find it's best to live by a few simple rules. I don't micturate into the wind. I don't mix tequila with red wine (not any more, anyway). I never get into arm-wrestling matches with fat guys named "Tiny."

Here's another rule to live by: When you're the biggest PC software company in the known universe and you have to bribe and/or force people to use your products, said products are probably not very good.

Which brings us to today's screed about Internet Explorer 8.

As The Register snarkily informs us, Microsoft's Australian branch is offering a $10,000 prize for users to switch to IE8. Actually, anyone can enter the Ten Grand is Buried Here contest, but the Web site where the loot is "buried" is only visible if you're using IE8.

Hey, if you want to make your browser choice based on an infinitesimal chance of winning 10 large, good on ya, mate. But many users are having IE8 foisted upon them unawares, and with crappy consequences.

For example: One day last month Cringester D. L. discovered when he logged onto the Net, he couldn't get to his e-mail or view Web pages. He then enjoyed several quality hours on the phone with Dell tech support, which determined the cause: His daughter had clicked a button and updated the browser to IE8 without telling him. The support tech logged onto his computer remotely and downgraded it to IE7. Problems solved.

Windows Secrets' Dennis O'Reilly also notes that IE causes big problems on some PCs. He quotes a letter from a tech-savvy reader:

"I have a computer repair business. In the last two weeks, I've had to fix three XP laptops after the installation of IE 8 made them inoperable. In each case, after the update, the desktop on each of these computers was blank except for the desktop wallpaper.

"It didn't matter whether you started the system in normal or safe mode, all desktop items -- including the taskbar -- were missing. The only way I could get them back was by using one of my bootable utilities that would allow me access to the restore points....

"Bottom line: There are big issues in Internet Explorer 8 land."

Computerworld blogger Barbara Krasnoff writes that after Microsoft's latest forced IE8 update, some users reported they could no longer access YouTube or other Flash-based sites. Of course, the solution was upgrading to a new version of Flash, as any moderately experienced user would know. But why, she asks, should Joe and Jane Consumer have to know this stuff? She adds:

...think about how most of us live with our automobiles. We're capable of filling the gas tank, and checking the air pressure and oil. But when you hear a mysterious noise, most drivers have no way of knowing whether they simply need new brake pads or whether the transmission is about to give up the ghost. Unless you're a home (or professional) mechanic, spending five hours trying to figure it out isn't really a useful option.

Microsoft, apparently, feels that it is. After convincing thousands of users that the company knows what's best for them, and that they should therefore accept the weekly updates that come their way, it pushed through an update that effectively interrupted the usefulness of their systems.

Couldn't have put it better myself. OK, I might have been a tad more sarcastic. But otherwise, she's spot on.

For months now, Windows Update has been nagging me to install a "high priority update," without which my computer may be in serious peril of being pwned by Eastern European cybergoons. (Of course, to even find that out I must run IE.) At the top of the update list: IE8 for XP. As if.

Admittedly, I did install IE8 on my Vista test machine, but only because I was willing to take one for the team. So far, no problems. Then again, I hardly ever use it. Because although IE8 is probably more secure than any other version of IE ever produced, it's even more secure to not use IE at all.

These days, when there's a plethora of browser choices available and seemingly a new one every other week, why should anyone use Internet Explorer when they don't have to? It's like what I told Tiny the other day: That's my forearm and I'll do what I want with it, thank you very much.

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Robert X. Cringely

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