Apple Sneaking MobileMe Onto Windows PCs

Earlier this month, Steve Clayton, a Microsoft engineer, noticed that Apple had packaged MobileMe software in its most recent iTunes 7.7 update when a 'MobileMe Preferences' icon mysteriously appeared in his Windows control panel, even though he hadn't signed up for the service.

In April, many Windows users complained that Apple was quietly loading its Safari Web browser onto their PCs without their permission through its Software Update service, as well as through the Windows versions of iTunes and Quicktime. The controversy caused Apple to alter the service to give users more visibility into what they're downloading.

It's an old debate, but Microsoft partners feel it's more valid than ever in light of Apple's ongoing attempts to paint itself as a progressive purveyor of technological goodness, and Microsoft as a plodding, nerdy behemoth incapable of getting out of its own way.

What's even more galling to Microsoft partners is the fact that MobileMe, a cloud-based subscription service that links users' personal calendars, contact lists, and email and data files with their iPhones and other devices, has been a major disappointment in the month since its launch, prompting Apple to give customers a free 30-day extension.

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But while Apple has been criticized over the MobileMe and Safari bundling, Microsoft partners say the fallout would be far more intense if the software giant were caught engaging in the same tactics.

"Whenever a story about unwanted installations comes along, the response is 'yeah, maybe Apple's doing this, but they're still not as bad as Microsoft.' And because it feels right, nobody argues -- or accepts the argument -- that Microsoft hasn't behaved like this in years," said Alun Jones, a Microsoft Security MVP in Woodinville, Wash.

Jones notes that Microsoft has already experienced market backlash for its attempts to promote Silverlight by offering new content that can only be accessed in Silverlight, and offering the software as an optional, but unchecked update in Windows Update.

"Simply put, people want to like Apple, so they're more apt to be forgiving. With Microsoft, they've been trained to be distrustful, so they're more apt to be disparaging," said Jones.

Michael Oh, president of Boston-based Apple reseller Tech Superpowers, understands why Microsoft partners would be a bit irked over the MobileMe issue, but doesn't think Apple is getting a free pass in the eyes of the industry. "If the Microsoft faithful is crying foul over this, they're probably justified. But iTunes is different than Windows, which is a large portion of the computing environment," said Oh.

John Eaton, president of San Francisco-based solution provider Eaton and Associates, which partners with both Microsoft and Apple, agrees that a double standard exists and says it's the result of Microsoft's general reputation as a bully in the marketplace.

However, Eaton says the criticism Apple is getting over MobileMe is justified. "MobileMe is possibly the worst release Apple has had in recent memory and they are taking a pounding for that, as they should," he said.