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Microsoft deletes older Ask.com browser toolbars, but ignores Oracle's new crapware

Gregg Keizer | June 16, 2015
Microsoft took what appeared to be a shot at Oracle's wallet this month when it switched on search-and-destroy in its security software for older versions of the Ask browser toolbar, which has long been bundled with Java even in the face of users' complaints.

Like other bundlers of so-called "crapware," Oracle included the Ask toolbar with Java for financial reasons: It received a commission from Ask for every installation of the toolbar.

Users have complained about the bundle for years, even going to the trouble of initiating online petitions where thousands have called on Oracle to stop.

Oracle has slowly responded by adding documents to its support site that walk users through uninstalling the toolbar.

But of greater interest, Oracle has stopped bundling the Ask.com toolbar with Java: Computerworld verified that Java 8 on OS X did not come with or offer the toolbar, while Java 8 for Windows pitched a Yahoo toolbar instead.

"Set Yahoo as your homepage and default search engine on Chrome and Internet Explorer, plus get Yahoo as your new tab page on Chrome," the Java's installation dialog stated. When Computerworld ran the Java 8 installer, the Yahoo tool was also installed.

It was unclear whether Yahoo's toolbar also violated the new Microsoft rule. It appears it should.

When Computerworld installed Java 8 on a Windows 7 PC running IE11 and allowed the Yahoo code to also install, the latter changed the default search engine in the browser from Google to Yahoo, without as much as a by-your-leave message. (Odd, too, was that the Yahoo change didn't immediately take effect, but swung into action only after about 10 to 15 minutes, a delaying tactic Oracle also used with Ask.com's toolbar, and which many classified as deceptive.)

The Yahoo tool behavior seemed to break one of the Microsoft rules it spelled out last year: "Our objective criteria states that a program should not ... circumvent user consent dialogs from the browser or operating system," one of those rules asserted. Yet Computerworld never saw a message from Windows or IE to confirm the change to IE11's search engine.

Nor did an up-to-date Security Essentials detect the bundled-with-Java Yahoo toolbar as malware. Microsoft did not immediately reply to several questions about the toolbar and how Microsoft's security products are supposed to handle it.

Years ago, Oracle had partnered with both Microsoft and Yahoo to inject crapware as part of Java installs. It then switched to Ask for several years before recently returning to Yahoo.

Microsoft isn't the only browser maker to put the hurt on toolbars. Google has been bashing them for ages, stressing the high gripe volume from Chrome users about the category; limiting in-browser apps and add-ons to those distributed through the Chrome Web Store, where they can be vetted; and warning customers about dubious software that changes the home page or search engine.

The latter, of course, has been in Google's own business interest, since search — and the home page it dominates — generates the bulk of the Mountain View, Calif. company's revenue.

 

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