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03.16.10

Does Microsoft Tinker With the Search Bar in Firefox?

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Microsoft, Windows at 8:06 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Firefox search
Wikipedia is my default search facility under Firefox

Summary: A reader alleges that Microsoft is playing dirty on Windows in order to suppress the use of Google (assuming AVG agreed to reroute traffic to Microsoft via Yahoo!)

ON TWO occasions earlier this year we echoed separate complaints from people who said that Microsoft uses Internet Explorer 8 (which it shoves down users' throats) to suppress the use of Google. The details were revealing and the claims sufficiently compelling.

A reader got in touch earlier today in order to say more things about a post we made earlier. To quote the relevant part:

lpbbear hi all, sorry to butt in, could i mention something about the bing issue to you roy? Mar 16 18:25
lpbbear OK, I will just throw it out there, noticed your item about Bing this morning, seeing some other related issues not seen mentioned anywhere yet. Mar 16 18:28
lpbbear I work as a PC tech, seeing an issue with AVG AntiVirus in Windows related to Bing Mar 16 18:28
lpbbear I haven’t had the luxury of time to tradck all of it down but it appears that sometime recently AVG has entered into some background agreement with microsoft. Mar 16 18:29
lpbbear during AVG install it asks to install a Yahoo toolbar, it seems to be over riding search settings in Firefox in Windows and locking Firefox search box to bing. Mar 16 18:30
neighborlee im  not happy with avg either..it said it removes trial and gives free versoin back.but it keeps nagging you about switching to non trial version regardless…not sure about bing but defintely yahoo, which M$ owns now  of course.. Mar 16 18:32
-BNtwitter/#boycottnovell-[eduvid] Wow, I have a static ip now :) now thinking for firewall Mar 16 18:34
*lpbbear_ (~quassel@66.172.105.203) has joined #boycottnovell Mar 16 18:34
neighborlee http://dissentingjustice.blogspot.com/2009/12/obama-falsely-claims-that-senate.html < this is also interesting Mar 16 18:34
phIRCe-BNc Title: DISSENTING JUSTICE: Obama Falsely Claims that the Senate Healthcare Bill Matches His Campaign Promises .::. Size~: 190.69 KB Mar 16 18:34
*lpbbear has quit (Ping timeout: 260 seconds) Mar 16 18:36
*lpbbear (~quassel@75.139.216.174) has joined #boycottnovell Mar 16 18:42
*lpbbear has quit (Client Quit) Mar 16 18:43
*lpbbear (~quassel@75.139.216.174) has joined #boycottnovell Mar 16 18:43
*lpbbear_ has quit (Ping timeout: 245 seconds) Mar 16 18:46
lpbbear anyone see that earlier mention of AVG/Bing lockin thing I mentioned, I glitched out for a moment Mar 16 18:46
schestowitz jono: hey Mar 16 18:51
schestowitz lpbbear I meant Mar 16 18:51
schestowitz Catching up…… Mar 16 18:51
lpbbear hi Mar 16 18:51
schestowitz lpbbear: has anyone reported this avg thing” Mar 16 18:52
schestowitz ? Mar 16 18:52
schestowitz That’s why Windows is bad for Firefox Mar 16 18:52
schestowitz Or any developer Mar 16 18:52
schestowitz Microsoft bullies competition over there Mar 16 18:52
schestowitz lpbbear: I can’t reproduce here cause I don’t have Windows Mar 16 18:53
lpbbear no, I don’t believe I have seen mention of it anywhere yet Mar 16 18:53
schestowitz Maybe someone else can test..? Mar 16 18:53
lpbbear saw your article on Bing this morning and thought you would like the additional info Mar 16 18:53
lpbbear uwhat it appears to be doing is locking the little searchbox in the upper right corner area of Firefox to Bing Mar 16 18:54
lpbbear ucan’t manually change to Google or anything else until you go into addons and disable the AVG yahoo addon, may have names a bit wrong, from memory Mar 16 18:55
neighborlee lpbbear: yup I did Mar 16 18:55
lpbbear I am always on the “clock” at customers sites so I haven’t had the luxury of time to follow it up more. Mar 16 18:56
neighborlee lpbbear: I uninstalled unhappy with their constant nagging about switching from free to pay version Mar 16 18:56
neighborlee lpbbear: but I dont recall bing issues..yahoo toolbar yes < not good since M$ owns yahoo now> Mar 16 18:57
lpbbear its fairly recent, just started seeing this issue on customers systems that use Firefox Mar 16 18:57
lpbbear seems to me to be a clear antitrust issue even though its being used through a third party proxy by Microsoft. Mar 16 18:58
lpbbear I could understand if it just added a choice for Bing in the list but its locking the list to just Bing and not allowing the user the ability to switch to other choices. Mar 16 19:01

Can any of our readers (with a Windows partition) test this to confirm? This is why Free software on top of Windows is far from ideal; Microsoft has a long history of pulling such tricks because it controls the underlying platform and vainly disregards the rule of law. How about when Microsoft “sabotaged” Firefox last year [1, 2, 3] (more than once)?

Speaking of Web browsers, one reader alerts us that “Microsoft innovates plug-in-free video”. According to the article he cites (CNET warning), “Coming in the new version is support for new Web standards including plug-in-free video; better performance with graphics, text, and JavaSript…”

Does that mean that Microsoft might support embedded Ogg? Is Microsoft relenting on Silver Lie then [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]? It’s hard to believe.

“…[Windows 98] must be a killer on shipments so that Netscape never gets a chance…”

Former Microsoft Vice President James Allchin in an internal memo

“We are going to cut off their air supply. Everything they’re selling, we’re going to give away for free.”

Paul Maritz, former Microsoft Vice President (now VMware CEO), referring to Netscape

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3 Comments

  1. phobos_anomaly said,

    March 17, 2010 at 11:52 am

    Gravatar

    I can verify the issue. Like lpbbear I also work in the repair business. I’ve been seeing it happen quite a bit in the last month.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Thanks, so it’s not just Ubuntu that gets duped into Microsoft through Yahoo! (which helps Microsoft dodge antitrust calls).

  2. your_friend said,

    March 18, 2010 at 9:10 am

    Gravatar

    Mozilla has this help article confirming that the issue. Preferences may only be reset through a difficult manual process after AVG toolbar has been removed through another difficult manual process. RemoveMalware.com noted the inclusion of the Yahoo toolbar in March, 2008 for AVG version 8.0, and April of 2008. They recommended against the toolbar, which was an optional default install at the time, saying that it and most toolbars slow down browsing by 60%. Yahoo Answers recommends hiding and ignoring the toolbar, which leaves them the default engine. AVG says that removing the toolbar from version 8.5 does not remove “linkscanner”, but does not mention the Yahoo preference jibe. Presumably, browsing performance is slowed down as all links are sent preemptively to Yahoo for inspection if AVG is installed. I seem to recall an outcry about this web destroying band-aide for Windows insecurity where AVG backed down but that can’t be because 8.5 still had linkscan. AVG has this recent news release about linkscanner which is short on technical details. The Yahoo preference issue seems to have come up in AVG’s user forums late last year. Users were annoyed at the loss of choice in search engines and thought this was good reason to abandon AVG. They should all move to free software which lacks credible malware threats and offers much better search engine user control through browsers like Konqueror and Iceweasel. Free software browsers do not suffer performance hits from having a search toolbar because free software searches are not spyware. .

    I was unaware of a Microsoft connection, other than the fact that the OS needs snake oil like AVG to reassure users, but clear anti-trust concerns are raised. It turns out that Microsoft has been shaking down all AV makers with patents since 2008. AVG claims to be the world’s most popular AV, so their being targeted by Microsoft for manipulation would not be a surprise. All software vendors writing for Windows are subjugated by Microsoft in as much as Microsoft can sabotage their software at any time with a Windows Update. AV makers in particular have complained about Microsoft screwing them over in order to advance their own inferior security “profit center”. Laughably, Jim Alchin once promissed that Windows would not need other AV besides those from Microsoft. At the same time, Microsoft was partnering up with AVG by giving them an advertisement within the ill fated Vista OS. The inadequacy of AV software for Windows was recently covered here on BN. Late last year there was a flurry of advertisements disguised as articles about the 9.0 version of AVG in the Microsoft friendly press comparing it to Microsoft’s tools. Any competition between Microsoft and AV makers is a false contest where users aways lose and Windows always wins. If there is any new deal between AVG and Microsoft, the two of them are keeping it quiet, but AVG has long been a Microsoft Partner. There is a AVG write up of a new Global Strategic Analysis Group at AVG which touts LinkScanner and details many corporate shifts the company has had since 2006. The business details of AVG sound just like the business dealings of Microsoft with any other competitor, false promises, partnerships and betrayal. Where is the US DOJ? Computer security auditing is a real and useful task. Windows security is an oxymoron. These are unimportant details to the story at hand, which is the malware like behavior of AVG and Windows towards Firefox which is free software.

    The conclusion here is that Windows is a long time mess where Microsoft is able to manipulate all players to Microsoft’s advantage, and that Ubuntu should stay away from the tar pit. Firefox on Windows is not so secure that users feel safe without AV software and AVG delivers users to Bing, just like IE. Browser choice is again proved to be an inadequate substitute for software freedom. Ubuntu should take note of the company it is keeping with their own Yahoo/Bing deal. If it leads to Microsoft, it’s malware.

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