Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Again: Whose Machine Is It?

Increasingly in recent years, I’ve encountered many, many instances when I thought I’d uninstalled a program only to discover pieces of that program still active on my machine. Sometimes I found out because a reinstallation of that program miraculously recalled all the previous settings. I can understand why the software makers feel justified for hanging around after being uninstalled, but why can’t they ask our permission to do this?

The answer to this question is both easy and frightening: in their eyes our wishes simply don’t matter. And not just in this particular instance (hiding out in case we want to reinstall). This is their attitude about everything that resides on what we’d like to believe is our machine. We continue to think this way despite the fact they treat our machines as theirs to do with as they please. But it’s time we stood up and asked why they’re allowed to get away with this.

After all, if they were using your house to live in you’d get rid of them (if they were micro-sized, you’d exterminate them). If they tried to use your garage to store their crap, you’d throw it in the garbage. So why do we allow them to use the real estate (the hard disk storage) of our computers in any way they please, to use it as if it belonged to them?

But it’s more than your real estate these lurking software chunks are stealing. And it’s more important: it’s your time. Well, actually it’s your computer’s time, more properly known as clock cycles. Because these programs do more than lurk—they run. Commonly, what they do is run, take a look at what’s going on, and decide if they should take some action. The most common action is to go online to look for upgrades you don’t want. (Remember, you uninstalled this because you didn’t want it on your machine.)

But if your choice was to uninstall, to get rid of software you didn’t want on your machine, then where do they get the nerve (read cojones) to remain? They’re using your resources (squatting? trespassing? theft of services?) without your permission, so how the hell is this legal?

This is just the first installment. Next: Why You Will Lose At Hide And Seek.


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