The year's top stories: Oracle crapware, Windows 8.1, the NSA, and more [2013 in Review]

The year's top stories: Oracle crapware, Windows 8.1, the NSA, and more [2013 in Review]

Summary: My most popular stories of the year covered a wide range of topics. Here are the stories you found most interesting.


Every year at this time, my ZDNet overlords generate a list that ranks my year’s worth of posts by how many of you read each one.

It’s a fascinating list, not so much for the horse-race aspect as for the trends it highlights. Think of it as my own personal Google Zeitgeist, as measured by reader response.

This year, rather than simply rank the most popular posts, I decided to categorize them. This post offers a look back on the top five categories, as voted by you.

1. Oracle installs deceptive software with Java updates

I have to admit, this one surprised me. For the most part, I write about Microsoft software. But my most popular post of the year, by far, was last January’s look back at how Oracle pushes unwanted software on users of Java, using sleazy and deceptive techniques.

A close look at how Oracle installs deceptive software with Java updates

Java is the new king of foistware, displacing Adobe and Skype from the top of the heap.

And it earned that place with a combination of software update practices that are among the most user-hostile and cynical in the industry.

Sadly, Oracle has not changed its ways. As I confirmed yesterday, it continues to push the Ask toolbar and other unwanted products on anyone who installs or updates Java software.


2. Windows 8.1 replaces Windows 8

The 2012 launch of Windows 8 was not Microsoft’s most shining moment. This year’s release of Windows 8.1 was a rapid-fire attempt by Microsoft to improve the user experience and to demonstrate that the company can operate on Internet time. So it’s fitting that the top two posts in this category covered both parts of the story:

Windows 8, one year later: 10 mistakes Microsoft made (and how they plan to fix things)

Windows 8 had arrived at a turning point in the PC industry, with consumers turning away from conventional PCs in favor of smaller tablets and mobile devices. In theory, the new operating system had anticipated this shift. In practice, it didn't quite work out that way.

What went wrong? Let's count the ways...

Hands-on with the Windows 8.1 preview

It's not just a service pack. Windows 8.1 is filled with dozens of significant improvements, large and small, that improve its usability. The built-in apps also get some major upgrades and additions. Is this enough to silence the skeptics?

Other popular Windows 8.1-related posts:

3. Microsoft releases the Surface Pro

In 2012, Microsoft announced its plans to produce its first-ever line of Windows PCs under the Surface brand. This year, the company officially acknowledged that the original Surface with Windows RT was a flop, taking a write-down of more than $900 million. The Surface Pro, which has the guts of a more conventional PC, arrived in February. In my review, I called it “brilliant, quirky, and flawed.”

But the story that drew the most reader response was one that only a Windows geek could love:

Surface Pro versus MacBook Air: Who's being dishonest with storage space?

Unlike the Surface RT, which is a tablet that does a few PC-like things,  Surface Pro is a real, no-compromises PC. It can power a 2560x1600 30-inch display, it runs Windows 8 Pro, it supports Hyper-V virtualization, you can run PhotoShop and AutoCAD on it. It deserves to be compared head to head with another full PC like the MacBook Air.


Roughly eight months later, Microsoft released the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2. Both are significant improvements on their predecessors.

4. The NSA and bad journalism

For many ZDNet readers, the defining story of the year was the ongoing scandal involving pervasive NSA surveillance, with the catalyst being the release by Edward Snowden of a treasure trove of leaked documents from inside the previously secretive agency.

In December, CBS 60 Minutes broadcast a report that was widely and accurately panned as terrible journalism, a one-sided opportunity for the NSA to tell its side of the story, complete with a ludicrous tale of a potential virus that could brick every computer in the world. What few remember is that the NSA story started with some equally awful reporting about the PRISM program, as I wrote in June:

The real story in the NSA scandal is the collapse of journalism

The story alleges that the NSA is “reaching deep inside the machinery of American companies that host hundreds of millions of American-held accounts on American soil.” It specifically names nine companies: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple. And the story alleges, “From inside a company's data stream the NSA is capable of pulling out anything it likes.”

Within hours after the story broke, it had been amplified by other news agencies and tech websites and had inspired expressions of outrage over this invasion of privacy. And seven of the nine companies named issued categorical denials that they knew of or participated in any such program.

And then a funny thing happened the next morning. If you followed the link to that story, you found a completely different story, nearly twice as long, with a slightly different headline. The new story wasn’t  just expanded; it had been stripped of key details, with no acknowledgment of the changes.


Those original stories alleged that tech giants like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Apple “participate knowingly” in NSA surveillance. We now know that that isn’t true, that the NSA tapped into the feeds direct from data centers, without the knowledge of those companies. They were, in fact, victims.

But the damage was done.

5. So long, TechNet subscriptions

For years, Microsoft’s TechNet subscriptions were one of the best bargains in computing, especially for would-be IT pros. They were also, unfortunately, a magnet for pirates, who resold the cheap licenses to unsuspecting customers online. This year, on short notice, Microsoft announced it was killing off the subscription service.

Microsoft to shut down TechNet subscription service

Good night, TechNet.

The online Technet blogs and customer support forums will live on, but Microsoft announced today in a letter to subscribers that it plans to retire its venerable TechNet subscriptions service. New subscriptions will no longer be available after August 31, 2013, and the subscription service will shut down as current subscribers' contracts end.

There was a flurry of protest from TechNet subscribers, and Microsoft made a few changes to soften the blow for some of its most loyal customers. But by this time next year TechNet subscriptions will be a thing of the past.

Topics: Tech Industry, Hardware, Microsoft, Oracle, PCs, Windows

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  • The Guardian and The Washington Post

    Should be applauded for bringing into the open what the NSA and friends were up to.

    Class journalism.
    Alan Smithie
    • Yes, but

      you seem to miss the point. It's one thing to bring to light what the NSA was doing, but there is an obligation on journalists to get the facts right. Both Glen Greenwold and the Washington Post demonstrated they were more interested in breaking news than in getting it right with their sloppy writing that claimed the tech companies were willing partners with the NSA and other aspects of the PRISM program. And WAPO's failure to even acknowledge it screwed up by simply changing the story without comment is still another major breach of ethics. I applaud bringing this massive government overreach to light but Ed's post was about the shoddy journalism that accompanied it.
      • Real Crapware is Windows

        And only crapware but Windows is also malware and spyware in same package.
        • hahaha

          that goes since windows 98 at least
        • Yeah... no.

          That story has been refuted by both Microsoft and, you know, THE GERMAN GOVERNMENT.

    • But what about 9/11

      They should stop being puppets when it comes to 9/11 though and should tell us the truth about it,, I find it strange the media told this story at all, when the media in the US is so controlled
  • Seeing those Oracle screen caps again

    Just makes me angry. Especially considering Oracle positions Java as a business development platform....
    • Business Development Platform

      Java is a business development platform -- it develops more more business for Oracle! :)
      • Business development platform...

        It also develops business opportunities for makers of antacids, tranquilizers, and other medications that relieve anxiety and its symptoms. There's nothing quite like opening your browser only to discover that you failed to uncheck the boxes in the latest Java upgrade, and you now have those handy ... modifications ... to your internet access.

        I try not to use software that requires frequent updates, provided by vendors who BY DEFAULT enable unwanted add-ins when you update. It's not that easy, though; some of these products are required by other software that I have to use. So, the bottom line is eternal vigilance. Such is modern computing...
  • The year's top stories?

    Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
  • Microsoft Windows Editions

    I think Microsoft should do Windows (mobile version for both tablets/phones), Windows Home (full version for individual/family users), Windows Pro (full version for professional/enterprise users) and Windows Ultimate (full version for advanced users and enthusiasts).

    The Windows edition will have no desktop mode. It is an OEM-only version that can be installed on any form-factor with the phone features optionally activated say via BIOS settings or via hardware chip detection. In order for the Windows edition to succeed though, Office should be fully migrated first as a Windows Store App.

    All other editions can have the desktop mode pre-installed. Over time, depending on the remaining availability of desktop apps, the desktop mode can be demoted as an optional install/add-on (perhaps as just another Windows Store App).
    • Explain the difference between Pro and Ultimate

      Info Dave
      • Hmmm...

        The Ultimate can have everything that Microsoft developed for the Windows software including those that they include/exclude from Home and/or Pro.

        For example: Home may have special family-based licensing features but not Pro. Home may have home-based cloud management features but not Pro. Pro may have special business-targeted licensing features but not Home. Pro may have enterprise networking and advanced IT management features but not Home.

        The Ultimate can have all of these plus unique features say to create/manage separate/hybrid Home and Pro profiles. It would likewise be great for the Ultimate to have VDI and DaaS hosting capabilities when in a private home-based network with ultra-thin/zero client setup.
  • Sleaze sells

    And if you're looking for IT sleaze, you pretty much can't go wrong by dialing up the latest news from Oracle.
  • Flaws continue

    The blatant flaws in items 2 and 3 remain. Still haven't seen or read about any serious attempts by Microsoft to fix the UI problems so that Windows-8 doesn't continue to blatantly pander to the smartphone/tablet form factors. Hint: give installers the choice of UI to use!
  • Good Article

    I am really disturbed by the Java updates always wanting to install Ask and wish they'd stop it; this just reinforces my intense dislike of Oracle.

    I suppose someday in the far future I will be forced to use something that looks like Windows 8 but I still won't like it. Also, Linux fans need to admit that most of their distros have worked hard to look like (the real) Windows screens.
    • Most of them got there before Windows...

      It looked a lot more like Windows trying to look like UNIX...

      And KDE/Gnome started going after the tablets before Microsoft... So the results microsoft came up with look a LOT like Gnome...

      But there are a lot of alternatives...

      Ambient, CDE, Deepin, Cinnamon, EDE, Enlightenment,
      Étoilé, GNOME Shell, KDE SC, LXDE, MATE, Mezzo, Pantheon,
      Project Looking Glass, Razor-qt, ROX Desktop, Sugar, Trinity,
      UDE, Unity, Xfce ...
    • Really, Bill4?

      "Also, Linux fans need to admit that most of their distros have worked hard to look like (the real) Windows screens."

      Sounds like you have no idea what you are talking about on this one.
  • another ridiculous article

    it's windows that started stealing KDE with vista, not other way around.
    windows interface today is stolen KDE, nothing else.

    and as for windows 8,1 replacing 8, that's no news at all, it's a simple service pack, why would that be news at all.

    similar to oracle: wtf? they don't install anything without your permission. it allows you to click and deny installation of ask toolbar

    microsoft doesn't ask you anything when installing nsa spyware.