first last

Who Me? Couldn't Be... Then Who?

Who took the cookie from the cookie jar?

Has anyone ever noticed that Microsoft rarely takes full responsibility for their mistakes and bugs? I'm sure to most people this is a given, but here's a specific example.

When an error occurs in Windows XP, and a program is forced to close, an error box will appear, asking if the error information should be sent to Microsoft for troubleshooting purposes. In the past, I usually closed this notification without sending the error. Nowadays I send the report half or more of the time. I usually don't read any follow-up information provided by the error report, because it's boring and doesn't usually provide any way to fix the problem. One pattern I have noticed on the occasion I have read the reports is this: Microsoft never admits blame. Look at an excerpt from the following error report that resulted when Microsoft Internet Explorer randomly crashed and burned:

Internet Explorer is not responding: try troubleshooting steps

Thank you for submitting an error report. This is the best way to let us know when Internet Explorer stops responding.

Problem description

It's hard to determine exactly what causes Internet Explorer to stop responding (this is also called an application hang or, simply, a hang), but it's usually due to one of the following:

* Spyware, adware, or other malicious software: If you have downloaded free software from the Internet, you might have inadvertently downloaded spyware with it. Spyware is software that can display advertisements (such as pop-up ads), collect information about you, or change settings on your computer, usually without your permission. Don't worry, you can usually remove spyware.

* Internet Explorer add-ons: Add-ons are software "extras" that add features or tools (an Internet toolbar for example) to Internet Explorer.

* Computer viruses: If your computer has a virus, the virus can cause Internet Explorer to stop responding.

Notice how they place this notice at the very top of the report, shifting the blame to someone else. Rather than saying, "Thank you for the information. We will get right on the problem and use this report to improve future versions of our software to better serve you!", they name 3 possible sources of the error, none of which would be Microsoft's fault.

The error report states that the 3 most likely causes of IE crashing are:

  1. Spyware, adware or other malicious software. Translated: "Some bad person is attacking our perfectly coded, innocent application, so it's not our fault."
  2. Internet Explorer add-ons. Translated: "If you had a clean install of IE, you would never have any problems. It must be one of those add-ons, like Flash or something. It couldn't possibly be our software, but must be a plugin... even if you weren't accessing one at the time."
  3. Computer viruses. Translated: "The worst of the bad has attacked your computer, and you have a virus. That's not our fault, and our software is functioning normally."

The irony of points 1 and 2 is that, if it was indeed a problem resulting from spyware or a virus, it would still possibly be a problem with Microsoft's product. There have historically been many holes in IE or Outlook that allow such malicious programs to pass through while a user is performing normal, everyday tasks. Granted, it is not Microsofts responsibility to take the blame for malicious hacks, but oftentimes they come through because of a blatant flaw in how the program was made.

I'm not by any means a Microsoft hater, and I am generally unbiased. I just found their error messages a little lofty and standoffish. When something buggy happens with their software, they should be willing to admit the possibility that there is something wrong with their software, rather than shifting the blame.

By the way, whenever Firefox crashes, Microsoft makes sure to provide a link in the error report that specifically points out that there is probably something wrong with Firefox. ;)

first last