Is Microsoft Office Adware? - OpenOffice.org Ninja

Is Microsoft Office Adware?

Posted by Andrew Z at Saturday, February 9, 2008 | Permalink

Is Microsoft Office adware? Wikipedia defines adware as "any software package which automatically plays, displays, or downloads advertising material to a computer after the software is installed on it or while the application is being used."

In Microsoft Office Professional 2003's help, a search for "APA" (a popular documentation style) brings up two links labeled Microsoft Office Marketplace.

Microsoft Office Word 2003 help showing two marketplace ads

A click on the link opens a web page where the item is available for a fee. Also, there's a banner advertisement from Dell.

Screenshot of Microsoft Office Marketplace

A search in Office's help for "print" leads to the brief article "Print more than one copy" with two up-selling links for Office 2007.

Microsoft Office Word 2003 help showing two up-selling ads for Office 2007

By the way, clicking either promotion launches Internet Explorer even when Firefox is the default browser. The reason is the Office help runs an embedded Internet Explorer showing a page from office.microsoft.com. Despite the technical explanation, it can be confusing and inconvenient for the user to use a non-default browser.

On Microsoft.com, Sandi Hardmeier, MVP, concludes her adware definition, "Ads are not bad by themselves but they become a problem when they are unauthorized. Unfortunately, many adware programs do not give users enough notice or control." In Office, where is the "notice or control"? A workaround is to search the Offline Help instead of the default Microsoft Office Online.

Could Office be spyware? Microsoft defines spyware as "software that performs certain behaviors such as advertising." Microsoft continues:

That does not mean all software that provides ads or tracks your online activities is bad. For example, you might sign up for a free music service, but you "pay" for the service by agreeing to receive targeted ads. If you understand the terms and agree to them, you may have decided that it is a fair tradeoff. You might also agree to let the company track your online activities to determine which ads to show you.

Basically, spyware includes adware, but not all ads are bad. Are ads bad about after paying for an Office license?

Another part of spyware is tracking. The Office 2003 EULA (.PDF and .XPS wrapped in .EXE) states:

CONSENT TO USE OF DATA. You agree that Microsoft and its affiliates may collect and use technical information gathered as part of the product support services provided to you, if any, related to the Software. Microsoft may use this information solely to improve our products or to provide customized services or technologies to you and will not disclose this information in a form that personally identifies you.

While in Office the collected information is not personal, the EULA does not mention disabling collection.

The Office Privacy Statement admits the use of tracking cookies. While cookies are normal and generally harmless, it is unusual to require cookies or to use them in a desktop application. If cookies are disabled in Internet Explorer, the Office help fails.

Microsoft Office Word 2003 help: an error when cookies are disabled in Internet Explorer

In conclusion, Office 2003 does display ads, and certain parts require cookies. While these are a normal and healthy part of the web, it is, at least, unusual for a commercial desktop application.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

and why do i not find this the least bit surprising? crap like this wouldn't happen, or stay around long if it does, if only EVERYONE concerned would do something about it. A good example would be to use either an older version or use an alternate program. hurt the wallet enough the bs stops, for awhile. i know this will never happen since to many of the sheep are content with being slapped around by the shepard.

Anonymous said...

microsoft: always more cash, in any form

sven said...

c'mon, get yourself a life! think for instance about mac os x's print dialog. it has integrated link to printer supply shop in apple.com. does that make whole os x adware?

Anonymous said...

I think you are stretching things a bit. Annoying and unwanted? Yes! Adware? probably not. And it is quite easy to disable the online help.

Unfortunately your average user is probably not even aware this is possible, seeing how many computers I see which are still set to the default Letter size documents and printing and using the American spell-checker. Why can't Office use the system settings for this?

Anonymous said...

Why can't Office use the system settings for this?

microsoft programming skills deny any hope.

Tsu Dho Nimh said...

And there are many places where you click on a feature and see a dialog box telling you to talk to your IT staff about installing _(Windows Server, or Share Point, usually)_ which will make that feature usable.

These are not greyed out, they look like available featres until you try to use them.

So I guess it's crippleware and adware and spyware all in one.

playah said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Only one thing to say :


Use OPENOFFICE!!!

(http://www.openoffice.org/).

Anonymous said...

Open Office is a great tool, undoubtedly. But to be honest, for the power user, Microsoft Office is clearly superior due to the depth of functionality. MS Office became the standard in business long ago. I would argue that this is more of a testament to its evolution rather than purely on Microsoft's size.

john said...

Of course you are correct. in fact the whole MS OS is adware. how about in the OS when you get those security alerts it sends your to Norton for a Virus fix. you know good and well Microsoft has a marketing agreement with all these companies. This is why i use Linux. Noeof that crap.

Justin said...

>for the power user, Microsoft Office is clearly superior due to the depth of functionality

That's absurd. Advanced users don't go near MS Office, or OpenOffice - both of which a dumbed down one-click tools for the challenged. Power users use LaTeX.

Anonymous said...

This is just stupid, sorry. It's not adware at all.

squenson said...

For better performances, I have disabled the on-line help and only rely on the classical help file. To disable on-line help, go to Tools > Options, tab "General", button "Service Options" and select the entry "Online content". Then uncheck the box "Show content and links from MS Office online"