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InfoQ Homepage News Microsoft Classifies Older Versions of Ask Toolbar as Malware

Microsoft Classifies Older Versions of Ask Toolbar as Malware

Microsoft is now classifying as malware and blocking the installation of older versions of the Ask Toolbar, currently bundled within the Java installer; however, the latest version of the toolbar will still work with no problem. The decision aligns with Microsoft recent’s policy to classify as malware any search protection code; code that prevents the user from changing the default search engine.

The rationale behind this decision is important, since it explains why the latest version of the toolbar is not considered malware. The toolbar per se, and the fact that the default search engine is modified, are not being targeted by Microsoft. The functionality that is considered malware is a protection mechanism that will prompt the user whenever the home page or default search engine is being changed away from Ask. As Microsoft reports:

When another program attempts to change the home page, default search, or new tabs setting, older versions of this browser modifier [the Ask Toolbar] displays the following warning [image included only in source] that there have been changes in the Internet Explorer settings and attempts to revert you back to the Ask home page.

The latest version of the Ask Toolbar has reportedly removed the search protection functionality, which means it falls within Microsoft’s guidelines.

Despite its limits, the decision has been welcomed by a large portion of the Java community, traditionally opposed to the inclusion of the toolbar. A public petition was created asking Oracle, the current custodian of Java, to remove the toolbar from the installer; to date, this petition has been signed by over 20.000 people, among them the well known Java developer Joshua Bloch. Oracle partially addressed these concerns in July 2014 by adding a configuration option that suppresses third-party bundled software.

Java has been bundling toolbars as part of the installation for quite some time. In 2005, Sun announced that it would include the Google Toolbar along with Java SE 5, at a time where Google was part of the JCP Programme Executive Committee. Three years later, in 2008, it began offering Microsoft’s MSN Toolbar under a similar deal. The Yahoo! Toolbar was also reported to be bundled with Java updates. When Oracle acquired Sun in 2010, the practice of bundling toolbars carried on uninterrupted.

The practice of bundling toolbars with software was at one point popular among software distributors. Adobe Flash used to provide the Chrome Toolbar, while Skype bundled their own Skype Toolbar and other add-ons. Most of them ceased though, with Java being one of the few still following this practice.

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