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Skype "Extras Manager" - Beware. Beware Some More.

One of the things that has always bothered me about Skype, even in the days when I was actively using it, encouraging my friends and family to install it, and helping others with problems in the Skype User Forums, was the very questionable way that they go about quietly installing "additional software" on users systems.

One of the things that has always bothered me about Skype, even in the days when I was actively using it, encouraging my friends and family to install it, and helping others with problems in the Skype User Forums, was the very questionable way that they go about quietly installing "additional software" on users systems. I believe that they actively try to "sneak it" onto systems without users noticing, because the selection box for the Skype "Extras Manager" (and the infamous Skype browser add-ons for IE and Firefox) are tucked away in an "options" screen which I claim 99% of the people who install Skype never even notice, much less go to and consider the implications of what they are agreeing to allow Skype to install. (Questions: How many people reading this have Skype installed on their computers? How many of those noticed the "options" button during installation? How many of those actually clicked that button and went to the options page? How many of those actually understood what those options meant, and that by allowing their installation they would be adding third party software to their computers?)

Until now almost all of the problems related to this have been serious bugs and loss of functionality. Not just Skype functionality, mind you - the "browser add-ons" are well known for causing IE and/or Firefox to crash, hang, or just make pages unreadable, and have even been know to block internet access completely or even crash the entire computer. The "Extras Manager" went through a phase a while back where it just kept eating more and more memory and cpu power until the system either became unusably slow or crashed. But now, Skype has reached a new low with their "Extras Manager".

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has written in his ZDNet.com blog describing the new fiasco. It makes for an interesting read. What I find the most typical about it is Skype's reaction - basically, caught with their hand in the cookie jar, they immediately start stammering about it not being what it obviously appears to be, it was a mistake, we didn't mean it... and then they come up with what I think should be the ultimate Skype quote for all time: "...it neither installs nor un-installs correctly..."! But this thing, whatever it is, which doesn't install correctly (but comes close enough that it has placed an executable on your system which is trying to access something else), and doesn't uninstall correctly (which means that you probably can't get rid of it), was approved for release and shipped by Skype for installation on their "500 million registered users" computers? Great job, Skype. Keep up the good work.

Quite a lot of people have asked me what I thought about Microsoft buying Skype. I have avoided public comment, because there has been more than enough going around. But I will say this now. If there were ever two companies in this world who "deserved each other", it is Skype and Microsoft.

jw 30/5/2011

P.S. Just in case it is not clear from the above description, here is the most important thing to learn from the latest fiasco. If you must use Skype, please be careful when installing it and please, please make sure that you do not install the "Extras Manager" and the browser plugins. This means, during the installation, click on the "options" button (or whatever it is called these days, I haven't installed Skype in a very long time), and MAKE SURE that you un-select those items. Yes, I said un-select, these are not "options" that you have to choose, they are "options" which Skype has already set up for automatic installation, and you have to explicitly STOP them from installing. Well, you "have" to unless you want to leave the door wide open for Skype to install whatever they want, anytime they want, on your computer, without notifying you in any way, under the guise of "Extras Manager Updates".