Update: Microsoft shuts down popular third-party Windows update app

AutoPatcher is no more after Microsoft sends cease-and-desist

Microsoft forced a popular alternative to Windows Update off the Internet Wednesday after sending the maker of AutoPatcher cease-and-desist e-mail. The free utility has been removed from its download site.

"Today we received an e-mail from Microsoft, requesting the immediate take-down of the download page, which of course means that AutoPatcher is probably history," said Antonis Kaladis, the 20-year-old Greek college student who wrote the program. "As much as we disagree, we can do very little, and although the download page is merely a collection of mirrors, we took the download page down."

AutoPatcher, which was in version 5.6, provided all Windows hotfixes and security patches in a single pre-packaged, albeit large, download -- then let users pick and choose which updates or fixes they installed. It was especially popular among people who frequently reformatted drives, set up systems or did informal tech support for friends and family because it let them do hands-off updates without connecting to the Internet.

Each month, the current set of Windows' -- and as of this month, Office's -- updates and hotfixes would be added to the packages. August's complete update kit for XP was over 330MB in size. The program supported Windows 2000, XP, Vista and Server 2003. This month, Kaladis and his team of volunteers added support for Office XP, 2003 and 2007.

The Microsoft take-down e-mail was posted to Neowin.net, the Web site which co-sponsored AutoPatcher and hosted the program's support forums. "Microsoft has received information that the domain listed above [www.autopatcher.com/downloads/], which appears to be on servers under your control, is offering unlicensed copies of, or is engaged in other unauthorized activities relating to copyrighted works published by Microsoft," the e-mail read.

Later Wednesday, Microsoft offered an explanation for the move that cited security concerns first, copyright second. "It's Microsoft policy that the distribution of supplemental code such as hotfixes, security updates, and service packs is discouraged," a company spokeswoman said via e-mail. "This policy is in place due to concern for the safety and security of our customers, as we can only guarantee the download's contents when it comes from a Microsoft Web site." She also noted that AutoPatcher was infringing on Microsoft's copyright.

Users of AutoPatcher were, not surprisingly, hot. "The end of AutoPatcher is the end of my use of any Windows product, period," swore a user identified as KMan in a comment to Kaladis' post.

"AutoPatcher was an absolute must in an IT person's arsenal," said The Warden. "I'm perplexed and disgusted."

Others understood Microsoft's motives, but questioned the timing, considering that AutoPatcher had been in full view for more than four years. "While I hate to see AutoPatcher go away, because I believe it's an indispensable resource that every IT person should have, I do understand Microsoft's position on only allowing updates to be downloaded from Microsoft for security reasons," said Aaron. "That said, they are obviously aware of the success of AutoPatcher, so I am surprised they haven't committed to their own project to do the same thing or offered to buy the engine from the AP team."

Neowin's co-founder, Stephen Parker, also wondered why Microsoft took action now. "I had a call from Microsoft Legal this morning and they have told me that we are no longer allowed to endorse AutoPatcher on Neowin," Parker said in a message on the site. "I have no explanation for why Microsoft allowed it to continue unchecked for 4 years before making this decision."

When asked "why now," Microsoft's spokeswoman said the company only recently discovered AutoPatcher. "They literally just found out about it," she said. "This is when it hit their radar."

AutoPatcher, however, has been fodder for discussion on Microsoft's own Windows Update support newsgroup, with messages mentioning the software going back to February 2006. And in at least one instance, a Microsoft MVP -- one of the volunteers recognized by Microsoft for his or her contributions to the technical community -- recommended AutoPatcher as a way to create an up-to-date build of Windows XP.

Microsoft has dealt similar cease-and-desist orders to other patch-related Web sites or services in the past. In April, it leaned on Hotfix.net, whose operator, Ethan Allen, had posted more than 100 hotfixes he expected would be part of Vista SP1. Allen also complied by yanking the download links.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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