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Why I Don't Run Windows, 7

I couldn't believe this when I read it, and even now, it still floors me. Microsoft patents the mother of all adware systems.

It's such a tremendously bad idea that it's almost bound to succeed. Microsoft has filed another patent, this one for an "advertising framework" that uses "context data" from your hard drive to show you advertisements and "apportion and credit advertising revenue" to ad suppliers in real time. Yes, Redmond wants to own the patent on the mother of all adware.

The application, filed in 2006, describes a multi-faceted, robust ad-delivering system that lives on a "user computer, whether it's part of the OS, an application or integrated within applications."

"Applications, tools, or utilities may use an application program interface to report context data tags such as key words or other information that may be used to target advertisements," says the filing. "The advertising framework may host several components for receiving and processing the context data, refining the data, requesting advertisements from an advertising supplier, for receiving and forwarding advertisements to a display client for presentation, and for providing data back to the advertising supplier."

The adware framework would leave almost no data untouched in its quest to sell you stuff. It would inspect "user document files, user e-mail files, user music files, downloaded podcasts, computer settings, computer status messages (e.g., a low memory status or low printer ink)," and more. How could we have been so blind as to not see the marketing value in computer status messages?

The software would also free advertising from its traditional browser yoke. "A word processor may display a banner ad along the top of a window, similar to a toolbar, while a graphical ad may be displayed in a frame associated with the application. A digital editor for photos or movies may support video-based advertisements," the patent application says.

The patent application, first unearthed by InformationWeek, gives the impression that your software would have more control over the advertising than you would. "An e-mail client may specify that ads from competitors must be excluded, that its own display client must be used... (that) no more than 4 ads per hour are allowed, and that only text or graphical... advertisements are supported." The patent makes no mention of any method by which an actual user might exert control, nor does it mention very real privacy or security concerns.

That's okay. It's still a good thing. It says so right in the application: "The ability to derive and process context data from local sources rather than monitor interactions with a remote entity, such as a server, benefits both consumers and advertisers by delivering more tightly targeted advertisements. The benefit to the user is the perception that the ads are more relevant, and therefore, less of an interruption. The benefit to the advertiser is better focus and a higher chance of conversion to a sale."

The patent is a fascinating exercise in advertising delivery systems. But surely that's all it is—an exercise. No way anyone would ever actually make a thing like this. Right?

So, let me get this straght:

  • I have to pay money for Windows so Microsoft can play Big Brother.
  • I don't have to pay money for Ubuntu so Canonical leaves me alone.
  • I have to pay money for Windows to install spyware and adware on my computer.
  • I don't have to pay money for Ubuntu to keep spyware off of my computer.
  • I have to pay money for Windows to take up valuable resources on my computer, scanning my data for targeting ads.
  • I don't have to pay money for Ubuntu so I can manage my resources as I see fit.

Interesting way of thinking, Microsoft. Call me stupid, but I think that's a dumb business model. Whether you agree with me or not, as I illustrate very plainly, I'll have to pay money for an operating system to infringe on my personal security through adware. And this is a good idea? Is this one of those "innovator" moments? I find it ironic that you offer a "tool" to remove adware from Windows, yet you'll be installing it by default. Will this "tool" remove it? I doubt it.

Hey, I have an idea for all the computers users out there: why not just download a Free and Open operating system, like Linux, and keep your personal data and security in tact? No Big Brother. No security breaches. No adware or spyware. Just peace of mind knowing that you have an operating system that leaves you alone.

Huh. I bet you didn't think of that now, did you Microsoft?

{ 14 } Comments

  1. erik using Firefox 2.0.0.4 on Windows XP | July 19, 2007 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    The assumption that they would implement it or even consider it seriously for their products is all yours.

    Patents are registered to protect potential ip, and this application of couple mixed ideas is (unlike many others) actually quite novel when you read it through. Companies register those patents just to be on safe side, and have often a lot of patents they might never actually put into use.

    Perhaps they just patented it to protect the people from other companies that WOULD put that idea into use? Unlikely, but even possible.

    Also, the patent leaves a lot of implementation details which would change it drastically open. For instance if the feature would be obligatory, and the customer would get something back for it, some people might want to actually use that feature. It can be also implemented in ways that are not really privacy invasive. Comparison: In many countries when you walk out of the shops at this moment there will be people waiting outside offering to buy.. Your shopping list.

    Furthermore, you are using "this bad feature" as a reason not to use "XP or Vista". That is at least the image that one can get from that. But as XP and Vista don't have such feature, your argumentation is quite faulty. Furthermore there's nothing major to indicate that the version you'd be running Windows with such feature in 5+ years either.

  2. Aaron using Firefox 2.0.0.4 on Ubuntu | July 19, 2007 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    @Eric- So, if I understand you, you are saying that if they don't use the idea in their operating system, but someone else does, then they have the right to sue for patent infringement? Even a better business model!

    Here's another thought. Rather than be so concerned about increasing your patent portfolio, and suing anyone who even looks wrongly at it, why not try to build community and encourage innovation through open models and paradigms. The fact that they need a larger portfolio of software patents "just in case" would easily be reason #8 why I don't run Windows. Software patents are inherently broken from the core as they stifle innovation and prevent creative thinking. Of course, this one is just stupid, but to each their own, I guess.

  3. Michael R. Head using Firefox 2.0.0.4 on Ubuntu | July 19, 2007 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    You missed the point! This patent is about releasing a "Linux-killer" version of Windows that will be completely free to download and have all the features of windows, plus adware.

    This is also meant as a Google killer so they can win over advertisers that so far just track what you're looking at in your web browser.

  4. Anonymous using Firefox 2.0.0.4 on Ubuntu | July 19, 2007 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    I'm surprised you're only up to #7 :)

  5. erik using Firefox 2.0.0.5 on Windows XP | July 19, 2007 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    "why not try to build community and encourage innovation through open models and paradigms"

    Where's the profit for doing that, especially adjusted with the risks associated? It doesn't exist, at least yet. Perhaps in 5-10 years it will.

    I would warmly recommend this book for you, and all other open source zealots: Johnson D.G. Computer Ethics. 3. edition. Upper Saddle River (NJ): Prentice Hall. 2001. It contains good discussion about software patents, and how they can actually also greatly benefit the software industry and everyone involved. (I just fear that you are too close minded and simply too brainwashed to really read and attempt to understand the under lying principles...)

    Oh, there's novelty in what Microsoft has come up with. It is not about "accessing all your files" but about actually making something useful about it. It will/would prove likely greatly harder to do than what Microsoft anticipates - yet another reason why we won't be seeing soon widely done. We might see some application testing it though... Likely something built for emerging markets.

  6. Aaron using Firefox 2.0.0.4 on Ubuntu | July 19, 2007 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    @eric- Brainwashed? Too close minded? Let's take a look at why Open Source Software is superior to proprietary software, and why community is better than vendor lockin. I'll summarize from UbuntuCat:

    * Open source software costs the consumer little, if no cost at all. Sure, you can make money on Free and Open Source Software, but typically it's given away for free. If charged for the software, I can rest assured that I won't be charged $500 for an office suite. Rather, if charged, the cost is ususally for packaging, materials and shipping, with a bit of developer time and effort calculated. Open Source Software is like free checking at your bank. You can open the account for free, and use most, if not all services for free. Money is made on interest in loans. With Open Source Software, money can be made on commercial support. Proprietary software means paying money to use the bank, before even opening the account and agreeing to the checking terms.
    * Open Source Software offers peace of mind. Because the source is open for all to see, those who are programmers can review the software making sure that no malware, spyware or other badware is inserted in the code. This means security, reliability and peace of mind. Trust me, I've installed my fair share of "freeware" and "shareware" back in my Windows days, and it always seemed that there were viruses, malware, or other badware on my system, just as UbuntuCat found. I have yet to receive anything of that nature on Linux using Open Source Software. The software is higher quality, just due to the nature of openness itself.
    * Community support is prevalent. If you have a problem with a piece of software, you have a massive community at your fingertips to help you. This encourages relationships and growth. With proprietary software, I know of no such community. I have to turn to the vendor for support. Also, with Open Source Software, I have choices to use what program best fits my needs and productivity. Take ODF, for example. I can rely on ODF because I can open it and read it in any text editor, keeping me from relying on a certain vendor to open the file for me (DOC, XLS, PPT, etc.). It's just obvious that community is superior to vendor lockin.

    Brainwashed? Close minded? I think you have it all wrong. Try enlightened or uplifted.

  7. Simon using Firefox 2.0.0.5 on GNU/Linux | July 19, 2007 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this Aaron, it's a very interesting article. I do agree with Michael's assessment about this being the potential Linux killer (at least they'll try). Not sure about this being the Google killer, though. The Google Desktop search tool makes me uneasy since it could do the same thing, and it is worth noting it is not limited to the Windows OS as it runs on Mac and Linux.

  8. Jason using Firefox 2.0.0.5 on Mac OS | July 19, 2007 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    @Michael R. Head;

    Ain't gonna happen.
    Not any time soon.

  9. Michael using Firefox 2.0.0.4 on Windows XP | July 20, 2007 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    A linux-killer? Yeah, I don't think so. Even if Windows were free, would that many people care? Businesses who still operate on MS systems will continue to purchase software to avoid their employees being inundated with ads.

    Some end users will pay to make the continued barrage of advertising (which I'm sure will become increasingly noisy as people further tune them out) get out of their operating system.

    Some will install open source operating systems as "the last straw."

    And, some idiots will go, "A FREE OS? ZOMGWTF THAT IS SO C00L IT EVEN SAYS 'WINDOWS'!" not realizing that there are free (beer and speech) OSes.

    @eric - Why does "something useful" need to be done with my files? Even if the information is sent and received anonymously, what if I have scripts to saucy puppet shows (as an example, insert your own adult-themed file contents) stored in a hidden folder? Then my children, upon wanting to surf to something kid-friendly, would be presented with (most likely) advertisements that are decidedly adult. Don't tell me "create different user accounts," because many end users simply don't know how to do that.

    I'm aware that this goes into implementation details, and that "Microsoft would find a way" to prevent unintentional consequences, but how much do outside organizations really need to know about you before you decide it's enough? Like Aaron said, I'm not really alright with my PC churning spare cycles to literally mine my data for ad targeting.

  10. Michael using Firefox 2.0.0.4 on Windows XP | July 20, 2007 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Crap. Forgot to close a tag. Apologies for the meta-comment as well.

  11. Aaron using Firefox 2.0.0.5 on Ubuntu | July 20, 2007 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    @Michael- Fixed. I need a preview button, but haven't been able to find anything that I like for WordPress yet.

  12. Kelly using Internet Explorer 6.0 on Windows XP | August 3, 2007 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    Helped me lot… thanks for such a informative article

  13. Amy Rose using Konqueror 3.5 on Kubuntu | August 18, 2007 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Wow. You have to love the irony though!

    Yet another reason I love Kubuntu. :)

  14. Amy Rose using Konqueror 3.5 on Kubuntu | August 18, 2007 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    @Michael: Agreed. Windows+ads won't be a Linux-killer for me because I left Windows for safety reasons, not just the fact that Linux is free. :)

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