Internet Explorer 7 and Toolbars

For whatever reason people find pleasure in developing things like toolbars and then forcing users to put them on their computers. With so many people running MSIE, developers had a fairly easy time “drive-by installing” these apps. As a result, I have met my fair share of Windows machines riddled with spyware and overloaded with toolbars. Generally I tell the person to get Firefox and never use IE. That was until IE7. I have known, because I have been using it, that IE7 is a great step for Microsoft even when running it on XP without a lot of the Security modes available on Vista. I have been curious, to some degree, how it runs on Vista and what they new security is like.

This article was recently published on OSNews.com and it shows the immense difficulty in installing these annoying toolbars on IE7 under Vista. After reading this article and wondering why ANYONE in their right mind would install 17 toolbars in IE7, especially considering the amount of work involved in actually installing them, I began to doubt the authors sanity. But he was able, at the end of the article, to, with just a few clicks, restore IE7 to a near pristine state. I say “near” because the Yahoo toolbar remained, not quite an annoyance, but one wonders if other developers will follow this method and not allow IE7 to reset their toolbars.

I dont doubt that people will find a way around any type of protection that is installed in a system. This is just how software development is, it is very hard, if not impossible, to create a completely bug free unexploitable program. In particular with Microsoft and the high market percentage they own, it will happen. Microsoft can only do so much to make sure users dont shoot themselves in the foot. The only other option is to not allow the installation of software, and thats not really useful and would in fact make the OS useless.

You can, of course, also say “Well if Linux is immune to spyware, why cant Microsoft follow suit?” I dont know the answer to that question, I have my thoughts, but nothing concrete. I can tell you its likely to do with the ridiculiously small market share Linux has in comparison to Microsoft. Or the fact that many people who run Linux are quite knowledegable about Malware and Spyware. I, for one, have never had any problems with IE and Spyware on my computer, but then I am not the typical Microsoft Windows user. Thus, most people running Linux would tend to know what they are installing and whether they actually want it or not. Also, I know that Linux does not allow the browser to run as Microsoft has IE run in XP, which allows it access to the system in such a way that it can install software. IE7 changes this; this change should improve security drastically for IE and not allow malicious programs access to the system where they could do their evil deeds. But the button line is, no matter how good a wall you build if the person watching the wall is an idiot, its just as secure as not having a wall at all. The same is true about users and computer security.

The one thing in this article that did bug me, and bugged the author as well, was the presence of a bug that could possible do a lot to undermine Microsofts attempts at security. In order to install these programs you must lighten the security provided to you by Vista and IE7 as these programs require use of Windows outside what IE7 has access to. ( If you dont understand this, do some reading about how IE7 runs in Protected Mode by default. ) The problem is that when IE7 does drop the Vista security by installing one of these programs, it stays down. With it down, IE7 will still ask you about installing this software, but it is by no means as difficult as it is with Protected Mode On. Hopefully, Microsoft will fix this in the final release.

So, overall, my thoughts about IE7 have not been wrong. The emergence of Firefox as a worthy competitor to MS has given the company reason to really ramp up Internet Explorer and has shown that Microsoft is capable of putting out a decent browser. I have been using IE7 here and there for a couple of months, and so far I am quite impressed. I do still use Firefox more, just because I like the UI and all the little features (like the Find and Firebug) that make my life easier. But I think that IE7 is a huge step in the right direction and will certainly help make sure I dont have to go home every other week to clean spyware off my parents computer.

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