The smart guys over at Windows Secrets have as usual been doing some spelunking and they discovered this week that Windows Update in Windows XP and Vista recently updated some files without telling the user. Of course, the files are executables used by Windows Update itself, but the idea that Microsoft would be changing user systems without notification or even admitting the possibility caused some unfavorable buzz and Microsoft’s Nate Clinton to try to calm the raging masses.
More specifically, the problem is that for the 4 Windows Update options:
all but the last choice allows Windows Update to update its own files without telling the user, while the expectation for many was that no changes to executables of any sort would be made without user approval except with the first option.
I frankly find it hard to get excited by this since by running an autonomic update program that calls home regularly, it is a reasonable expectation that if it is well written, it will be keeping itself up to date. In fact, Clinton says that Windows Update “has auto-updated itself many times in the past” and apparently everyone just noticed. If it is critical for some reason that no files change on your system, you shouldn’t be running an automatic update program in the first place.
Still, Microsoft should have been be more explicit on the exact behavior of Windows Update and Clinton says they “are now looking at the best way to clarify WU’s behavior to customers so that they can more clearly understand how WU works.” I expect that the real lesson here is that Microsoft has lost a great deal of good will over Windows Genuine Advantage and now everything they remotely change on a user’s machine is viewed with deep suspicion.