November 26, 2005

Would you like spyware with that?

I don't get irritated easily but I have observed a growing trend recently that is driving me absolutely nuts:  upgrade nags.

Well, to be precise:  upgrade nags without any possibility to turn them off.

You know, these dialog boxes that pop up whenever you launch the application and that let you know that a new version of the application is available.  The arrogance of the authors of these programs is absolutely baffling, and they should know by now that you don't get mindshare by forcing products down users' throats.

Here are the worst offenders as of today:

  • Yahoo Messenger.  It didn't used to be the case, but their recent "Yahoo Messenger with Voice" is obviously so important to them that they absolutely want you to install it, whether you have a microphone or not (or whether you want it or not).  Look, Yahoo, I like your client and you are welcome to let me know a new version is available, but how about a checkbox to allow me to pass on this great offer, uh?  Because right now, I am migrating away from Yahoo Messenger and urging my friends to do the same.
  • Acrobat Reader.  A veteran in the art of irritating users, and it's only getting worse as time goes by.  The most disturbing part is that the recent versions are actually worse than the previous ones:  longer start-up (do I really need all these plug-ins?  And why would I care about all these patents you filed?), pathetic scrolling and window management, miserably slow searching.  They must have seen that their users were reluctant upgrading, so they found the best way to make you:  a forced upgrade nag.  Keep up the good work, guys. 

  • iTunes.  Probably the worst offender.  Why?  Because it suffers from the same problems as Acrobat Reader plus the fact that every new version seems to restrict your rights on your own songs further.  When you upgrade iTunes, you can never really be sure that your iPod is not going to be wiped clean of songs or whether some of the songs you didn't buy through the iTunes store won't mysteriously stop playing.  Of course, it doesn't exactly help either that the Apple forums opted out of Google, so searching for answers to your iPod problems will typically not yield anything. And finally, here is the latest offense to date.

Any other?

Posted by cedric at November 26, 2005 01:39 PM

You could just give in and go to Trillian instead :-)

Posted by: Keith Sader at November 26, 2005 04:09 PM

Doesn't iTunes have a way of turning this off? ie: "Check for iTunes upgrades automatically"

Posted by: Glen Stampoultzis at November 26, 2005 04:35 PM

hi cedric,

"The arrogance of the authors of these programs is absolutely baffling, and they should know by now that you don't get mindshare by forcing products down users' throats."

I agree that most commercial vendors (including your examples) are arrogant. But there are some(Firefox) open source software that does the same too; AND I'm not sure that these OSS developers are arrogant -- so I'm thinking
"Don't attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence"


Posted by: anjan bacchu at November 26, 2005 05:58 PM

I am irritated by piggyback products. Again Yahoo comes to mind. No, I don't want to install the yahoo Internet toolbar with acrobat, flash, shockwave, or messenger. And please stop asking. Yahoo is on the top of several of my irritation lists.

Posted by: Roger at November 26, 2005 07:08 PM

Sun Java (j2sdk) - jusched.exe is installed automatically into the system startup without any option to disable that behavior.

Posted by: Ben Eng at November 26, 2005 08:03 PM

Yahoo IM latest version borders on spyware. If you haven't upgraded yet, you are lucky. You will save a lot of heartburn by not upgrading.

Posted by: Angsuman Chakraborty at November 26, 2005 09:46 PM

There is a way to disable the update mechanism of j2sdk:
Just go to Control Panel/Java; there you'll find the option.

Posted by: at November 26, 2005 11:15 PM

There is a way to disable the automatic update mechanism in j2sdk.
Just go to "Control Panel/Java"; there you'll find the option.

Posted by: Jochen at November 26, 2005 11:17 PM

AcroPDF has a good executable called Acrobat Speed Up that disables a whole bunch of plugins in Reader, so they don't load them on every start-up. The link is at:


It also claims to be able to disable the automatic updates feature.

The thing that *really* gets my goat about Acrobat Reader is that V7 shows you flashy ads all the time in the top-right corner of the screen. There doesn't seem to be any way to turn that off.

But then, I don't normally get bugged by these problems since I use on the Mac ;-)

Posted by: Alex Blewitt at November 27, 2005 08:18 AM

MusicMatch has to be up there, too (now owned by Y!... guess we can see why :D).

I've refused to install it on my new machine, but I remember it nagging me CONSTANTLY.

Posted by: Adam at November 27, 2005 01:29 PM

For networked products I think it makes sense to automatically upgrade as there could be bugs they want to patch that expose you to security risks.

In the case of Yahoo Messenger though, don't by any means go through with the so called "upgrade". The "Yahoo Messenger with Voice" is by far the buggiest piece of cr*p I've seen in a long time. Also, once you "upgraded" the older version just isn't available anymore so there's no way of going back to a working version.

I've almost completely stopped using Yahoo Messenger on Windows because of this screw up. I supposed they must've knee-jerked when Google came out with their IM client and rushed the whole thing through QA. A good lesson in what happens when the marketing/technology balance becomes scewed too much.

Posted by: Jon Tirsen at November 27, 2005 04:26 PM

I have to totally disagree with what you're staying about Acrobat Reader (or is it Acrobat on the Mac. btw...isnt it annoying when Mac users refer to Mac applications as its like always calling Windows apps something.exe). Things got worse up until version 6. Version 7 is lightyears better than 6. They significantly sped things up on the 7 update.

Posted by: Jason Kratz at November 28, 2005 09:32 AM

Yahoo Messenger - why even use it? Switch away as fast as you possibly can. Proprietary log format? No thanks, I'll take text or HTML format thank you very much. GAIM for Windows is now pretty stable, and that's what I use. There's Trillian of course, if you like that better.

Acrobat Reader - yeah, pretty annoying. Version 6.0 started to have ads in corner that constantly change to get your attention, WTF? I have neglected to switch to 7.0 to find out what kind of abomination they have created. BTW, you can remove many of the plugins which you don't use (by manually deleting the plugin files) and it loads *much* quicker. Haven't tried that in recent versions, though. Why don't they provide that as an option? Fortunately in Linux there are some decent alternatives (e.g. Evince), but what alternative PDF readers exist for Windows?

iTunes - Overrated music player to begin with, there are better choices out there. I always thought Winamp 5.x was much better. They have an upgrade nag, but there is an option to turn it off. If you are using Linux, there is Amarok which is great (also heard Winamp 5.x works fine under WINE). I use iTunes when I use my Mac (which happens mainly when I'm doing music recording), and I'm constantly underwhelmed by it. Apparently you can get Amarok to work through Fink, but haven't tried that yet.

Posted by: n at November 28, 2005 11:33 AM

Heh, I gave up on iTunes since I stumbled upon Anapod (, anyways. I still miss the nice genre-artist-album filters, but control over what and when to copy makes up for that.

Posted by: Pazu at November 28, 2005 11:59 AM

links are broken !! spyware ? :-)

Posted by: at November 29, 2005 05:06 PM

switch to gnu/linux ...

Posted by: manatlan at December 1, 2005 04:40 AM

There's always XML Spy of course. "Click here right now to buy our Enterprise Edition! Click within 3 seconds or we'll just debit your credit card!" I'm making it up a little, but it reminds me of Dogbert's "no-click shopping" invention.

Regarding iTunes: for the life of me, I still cannot understand why people agree to paying high prices for compressed music with all sorts of ridiculous DRM strings attached, while for pretty much the same price, they can get their music on CD or even hybrid SACD. Speaking of iTunes peeves: the underlying conceptual schema is utterly flawed for organizing classical music properly!

Posted by: Alain Rogister at December 1, 2005 07:29 AM

Those ads and the "phone home" "feature" build into most shareware (not all)/commercial products drives me nuts. The situation is way worse in the Windows ecosystem, which is one of the reason I use Un*x OSes.

That and the fact that I like absolute control. By default, any network traffic is rejected. Plain and simple. Then I add rules allowing certain users/applications to access *some* network ressources.

As for Acrobat Reader, I use it. And I don't get any ads. I use Acrobat Reader to *read* PDF files only (seems pretty logical uh?) since years. Now I'm using version 7.0. The application doesn't have the right to emit network traffic and all the "plugins" are turned off (it's as simple as removing files from a repertory, I did it when version 7.0 came out, a long time ago, so I don't remember exactly but Google is your friend).

No ads. Now I may miss some kinky functionality (I'm sure that some .pdf files are using JavaScript in some very creative way ;) but I don't have any ads and I can read (and print) every pdf document I ever needed fine.

This may not be working for all programs, but it works darn well for me.

For example, when working on a plugin for a certain (commercial) Java IDE (some time ago, that IDE has a better plugin development support now), I could go into complicated hack or simply launch two instances of the IDE simultaneously. The second IDE refused to launch "you cannot launch two instances simultaneously on this system".

Really? I'm in control. I removed the rule allowing the user account launching the second IDE instance to emit any kind of traffic. That's it. One (stateful firewall) line fix.

The point is: as a developer, it's not the OS that should decide what you're allowed to do, it's not the applications that should decide either. It's you.

Ads, just say no.
Phone home, just say no.
OS where you have no control over your system, just say... well, you decide.

That said, I have a computer running Windows here, for playing a game from a company called Blizzard... And the firewall is allowing that Windows computer to emit and receive traffic on *one* port.


Posted by: at December 1, 2005 08:05 AM

There is a simple solution to upgrade negs. BLOCKING the access to the update server with a firewall. I did it to Yahoo Messenge with success and many others.

Posted by: mememem at April 27, 2006 10:42 AM

Umm... about Yahoo... it doesn't FORCE you to install it, it just gives you that little window endlessly... but what if they didn't. Would your lazy ass do it? Probably not. Basically anyone without Yahoo voice and with analog yahoo sucks balls because they don't have any of the new features... it's for your own good so stop being such a prick, damn. It's FREE. -.-

Posted by: serious_cereal at April 29, 2006 09:44 AM

You can stop Yahoo! Messenger from displaying the pop-up upgrade reminder relatively easily.

Go into c:\program files\yahoo!\messenger and rename the file 'yupdater.exe' to something else (like '_updater.exe') and Messenger, being unable to find the file, won't be able to run the pop-up.

Posted by: Kymberleigh at June 29, 2006 07:50 PM

You can stop Yahoo! Messenger from displaying the pop-up upgrade reminder relatively easily.

Go into c:\program files\yahoo!\messenger and rename the file 'yupdater.exe' to something else (like '_updater.exe') and Messenger, being unable to find the file, won't be able to run the pop-up.

Posted by: Kymberleigh at June 29, 2006 07:50 PM

@ Angsuman Chakraborty and others, you can go back to other versions of Yahoo IM if you dont like their latest offering. I hate their new buggy, flash filled version, so I went back to, and disabled their updater as mentioned above. Life is great again. - Download older versions on the right in the green area.

BTW, Gaim is great, but it lacks important features like stealth settings etc.

Posted by: David at July 5, 2006 03:00 AM

The Quicktime Nagger is bad, too. Here's how I fixed mine.

1.Navigate to c:\program files\apple software update\SoftwareUpdate.exe

2. Rename SoftwareUpdate.exe to (or any ending other than .exe)

problem solved. -- E.J.

Posted by: E.J. Wilson at January 26, 2007 07:38 AM
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