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By Glenn Harlan Reynolds : BIO| 13 Sep 2020
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I'm a big fan of Amazon.com -- as my credit card statements can attest -- and I've watched their gradual entry into the online video world with considerable enthusiasm. If anybody can make that work, I figured, it would be Amazon.

But now, it looks like they're dropping the ball. Amazon's new UnBox video service turns out to have some traits that are even more annoying than the impenetrable cellophane stickers they put on DVD cases.

CNET reviewer Tom Merritt gave it a try, and discovered that you have to download proprietary Amazon player software to make it work. The software was a bit buggy, but that was only the beginning of his troubles. It turns out that it always wants to launch, and it keeps trying to access the Internet to phone home:

"I went to msconfig and unchecked Amazon Unbox so that it would definitely not launch itself at start-up. When I rebooted, it was no longer there. However, my firewall warned me that a Windows service (ADVWindowsClientService.exe ) was trying to connect to the Net. I clicked More Info in the firewall alert and found it was Amazon Unbox. Downright offensive. It still was launching a Net-connection process that even msconfig apparently couldn't stop. Forget it. That's not the behavior of good software. I went to uninstall it.

After the Install Shield launched and I chose uninstall, I got a login screen for my Amazon account. I just wanted to uninstall it. I shouldn't have to log in to my account to do that. So I canceled the login, and the uninstall failed. I tried that three times, and it failed each time. Finally I gave up and logged in and the uninstall finished.

So, in summary, to be allowed the privilege of purchasing a video that I can't burn to DVD and can't watch on my iPod, I have to allow a program to hijack my start-up and force me to login to uninstall it? No way. Sorry, Amazon."

Merritt's advice to Amazon: "Try again."

That's good advice, but what amazes me about this is that anyone who regularly uses computers could have told Amazon that this was a dumb idea.

The bugs are part of the problem, of course, but any time you use a proprietary player you're going to have bugs -- QuickTime and Windows Media, which have had many, many more iterations than a proprietary player will ever have, still haven't worked out all the bugs. Something new, and smaller-circulation, is bound to be buggier.

What's more, the whole philosophy here -- from the program's spyware-like behavior to its requiring you to login to uninstall software -- is totally wrong. Get this straight content providers: Our computers belong to us. If we're in the mood, we might let you sell us some stuff to run on them. But they don't belong to you, and we're not likely to surrender control over our own bought-and-paid-for hardware, which we often rely on to do our jobs and run our lives, simply in exchange for letting you sell us something. (Honestly, most of what you're selling isn't all that good anyway, and you're lucky that people buy it at all. So don't get greedy. And while click-through license agreements may make it legal, they won't make you any more popular.)

This isn't as bad as the disastrous Sony spyware scandal -- which also involved problems with uninstallation. But it's bad enough. As much as people in the entertainment business go on about their intellectual property, they're pretty cavalier with other people's personal property.

So here's my advice: Keep your grubby software off of my computer, or do without my business.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a TCS Daily contributing editor.

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