Safari 4 Download Stat Is Pure Hype

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I know I'm cruisin' for some abusin' at the hands of the Mac fanatics today, because twice in one morning I've felt compelled to bring a little skepticism to the exuberant reporting surrounding the latest developments from Apple. This time, all the major tech outlets are credulously reporting on this morning's press release from Apple, which heralds the runaway success of Safari 4 on the basis of 11 million downloads in three days.

Now, I'm not doubting Apple's numbers. Why would I? But as someone with three Macs at home, I couldn't help but notice that Apple pushed Safari 4 out as an automatic update to all of its users this week. Yesterday, all three of the Macs in my household received the update, and we don't even use Safari. (We prefer Firefox.)

[Note: Some critical readers have taken issue with my description of this update as 'automatic,' arguing that the update is only automatic for users who have checked the box marked 'Download important updates automatically' in Apple's software update utility. I'll grant that. However, this does nothing to invalidate the central premise of this piece, unless we are to grant the highly implausible assumption that a significant majority of users actually make a conscious decision about the updates they allow to install. Hardly anyone does this, and Apple certainly knows it.]

An informal poll of my friends and colleagues reveals a whole lot of the same. Got the update dialog, downloaded and installed it, don't intend to use it.

It may well be that Safari 4 is a fantastic browser, and that's not what's at issue here. What is at issue is the ridiculously thin claim that the latest Safari is a wild success on the basis that Apple basically pushed it out to everyone it possibly could, whether they wanted it or not. This very clearly echoes the last big Safari update, which Apple also pushed to unsuspecting users through its update tool.

[Note: Many of the same critics who complained about my use of 'automatic updates' in paragraph two also complained about my characterization of the March 2008 Safari for Windows update as being 'pushed to unsuspecting users.' In this case, I stand firmly by my words. Apple did indeed push that update out to users of iTunes and QuickTime on Windows, with the download option pre-selected (as the linked article explains), in an obvious attempt to get its browser onto as many systems as possible by exploiting a well-known weakness in end-user behavior.]

Robert Strohmeyer is a senior editor at PC World. He doesn't actually have anything against Apple, but the fanaticism gets under his skin. He tweets as @rstrohmeyer.

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