Microsoft has admitted that its regular software updates are ‘pranks’ largely generated by bored or frustrated programmers. The admission, which follows a three-year investigation by a special US Congressional Committee, has merely confirmed what many computer experts have been saying for some time.
Nigel Drake, a software analyst with Drayton Mann, said: ‘Honestly, when was the last time you actually downloaded a ‘critical’ update or patch from Microsoft, and it made any difference to anything you were doing? The screen doesn’t change, it doesn’t go any faster, it doesn’t stop getting attacked by viruses, it doesn’t boot up quicker, in fact if anything it gets slower and then your whole screen goes black.’
The updates, which are simultaneously offered to users in 82 countries, are programmed to make their presence known in a variety of annoying ways – as soon as the machine is switched on; before the machine can be switched off or in the case of modern Windows systems as soon as the machine detects the user is engaged in any activity of importance or interest.
‘Windows Updates are not compulsory,’ said a Microsoft spokesperson, ‘and the user has the option of simply switching off the prompts and ignoring them.’ However, Paul Strickland, who recently purchased Microsoft’s new Windows 7 package, said that when he turned off alerts and ignored updates he noticed that events took a sinister turn. ‘At first it was just harmlessly irritating, as usual. I’d get a message saying ‘you’ve turned off alerts’ every time I used the machine. Then when I was working it would randomly flash up ‘hey, you’re missing out on important updates’. A little later the machine began unexpectedly crashing, and I got a message saying ‘you were warned’.
The next day my wife’s car was mysteriously run off the road by a strange black utility vehicle, and I found that all evidence of my existence, bank details, driving licence… had been completely wiped off every database on earth. It might just have been an innocent glitch, but all I know is that when I switched the alerts back on everything returned to normal. So now I consider the endless pop-ups, flashing icons, warning gong sounds or system freezes a small price to pay for my family’s safety.’
Microsoft has turned down all interview requests, and has put the case in the hands of its lawyers, Munro Gibson. A partner at the firm issued a statement on his client’s behalf, which said, ‘While Microsoft regrets that Windows Updates serve no useful purpose other than providing a safety valve for people driven slowly mad by writing endless code, we deny any wrongdoing. We feel it only fair to add that we are aware of where you live and how old is little Katie now, she must be, what, about five years old? They’re so vulnerable at that age.’