Apple catches flak for Safari distribution tactic

— 3:39 PM on March 24, 2008

Last week Apple finally released a non-beta version of its Safari browser for Windows. This latest version 3.1 is very snappy (snappier than the latest Firefox 3 beta, even) and its interface is almost directly taken from Mac OS X—Apple-style font smoothing and lack of autoscroll support included. In other words, Safari 3.1 has strong points, but it's not for everyone.

Despite the browser's flaws, Apple is being pretty aggressive in promoting it—a little too aggressive for some users' tastes. Both CNet and CyberNet News report that Safari 3.1 pops up in Apple's Software Update program for Windows users who have iTunes and/or QuickTime installed. The updater doesn't just pimp Safari, either: it selects it by default for installation. As the two sites point out, the function of an updater program is normally to update existing software. Apple, however, is using the updater to push its browser on Windows users who never installed it on their PCs in the first place.

This tactic may not be a simple error on Apple's part. When Steve Jobs unveiled Safari at the Worldwide Developers Conference last June, the Apple CEO hinted that his company would use iTunes to push Safari in the Windows world. Jobs explained, "But how are we going to distribute this? . . . You know, there are 500,000 downloads of Firefox a day. What are we gonna do? Well, it turns out there's over a million downloads of iTunes a day. As a matter of fact, there have been over half a billion downloads of iTunes to Windows machines. . . . And so we know how to reach these customers."

Apple may think it's serving a good cause—after all, Jobs calls Safari the "best browser in the world"—but not everyone is thrilled, and especially not developers of competing browsers. On his blog, Mozilla CEO John Lilly sounded off by saying what Apple is doing is "wrong" and "undermines the trust relationship great companies have with their customers." He added that the iPod maker's tactic "borders on malware distribution practices."

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