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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Removing Vongo - Take 3

I received this comment last night from Richard Brownrigg:


I am the VP of Technology for Starz Entertainment and my team built Vongo. I am sorry that you have had a difficult consumer experience with Vongo on your HP.

I appreciate you offering me a forum to correct a few of the statements in your blog with some additional insights. While I appreciate and sympathize with your frustration and displeasure, without this additional context, I feel the statements posted here are inaccurate and unfair.

There are a number of items you reference from other sites and just like those sites, had you contacted us, we could have explained what the issue was and how it happened. Thank you for letting me do it here.

I am not here to argue the point of whether or not software should be preinstalled on an OEM PC. I am going to address what happen with the installation of Vongo on the HP laptops.

We built Vongo using what I thought to be enterprise grade tools and components (which should mean superior performance for consumers). Two of those tools were from Macrovision – InstallShield and Software Update Services. The Software Update Services tool has issues with its architecture. Macrovision engineers have admitted responsibility to us for this, but unfortunately they can not give an update to us at this time

Here is what happened.

HP decided to install software from Sonic and us. We both use the Macrovision’s InstallShield and Software Update Services. Sonic was installed first on the HP laptops followed by Vongo. During the installation of Vongo, the Macrovision InstallShield failed to see that another version of the Macrovision Software Update Services was installed on the machine and proceeded to overwrite some of the Software Update Services components.

If the user never tires to uninstall Vongo everything is fine. It is when someone tries to remove Vongo that the problem occurs and the same problem would happen if the user tried to uninstall Sonic, which they probably won’t since it is the CD / DVD burning software.

This might be a bit complex, but the problem is with the InstallShield Uninstall and the Software Update Services. When the consumer uses the Macrovision Uninstall routines to uninstall an application that installed the application and the Macrovision Software Update Services, the uninstaller ONLY uninstalls the software and not the associated registry settings and components of the Software Update Services. There are over 100 registry entries that are written but the installation of the Software Update Service will NEVER be removed.

So, in a nutshell, since the Vongo InstallShield installation overwrote some of the components of the Software Update Services that Sonic installed, the Software Update service thinks the Vongo install is broken and it tries to repair it by reinstalling Vongo.

Again, we have tried to work with Macrovision to fix the problem, but Macrovision indicates that there is not a way for them to remedy the situation because of the complex nature of how they install the Software Update Services. This could have happened to any program using Installshield/Software Update Services and unfortunately we just so happened to be the one whose service was primarily affected. Unfortunately you are a consumer who was impacted by this as well and for that I apologize, but I do feel incumbent to at least share with you and your readers what exactly happened here and the story as to why it happened.

We have temporary “work arounds” on our web site, which I can understand does not address the long term issue, but it is all we can do at this time.

As far as the long-term steps that we have taken,

1) We have also decided to drop the use of all Macrovision products form our code base. With the March release, we no longer use the Software Update Services, and in the summer we will drop the InstallShield tools altogether as well.

We also do not delete any programs or invoke any DLLs other than ours, and we do not hijack any running process. Yes, our service uses port 2005 to communicate out bound to our services, but we do not hide it. We actually tell users what ports we use and how to configure their firewalls to support it.

So, you can see why categorizing us as “spyware” is antithetical to everything that I have done in designing and crafting my service.

Thanks for reading. "

If this is all true, VONGO and HP should have been MUCH MORE forthcoming with this information. Google "Removing Vongo" and my blog, PRIMARILY about Type 1 diabetes and motherhood is the number 5 hit, behind 3 other blogs and CNET. I get more hits per day from my 2 other entries regarding Vongo, then I get from my "regular" readers. Nowhere does Vongo's site show up in that Google search.

If this is true, WHY has it taken Vongo so long to make any sort of effort to rebute what has been said, over and over and over again? And where is HP in all of this?

I find it AMAZINGLY frustrating that not a SINGLE person at HP EVER relayed this information. Their "stock" response has always been to just "delete it in safe mode" and act surprised when it doesn't work.

Personally, as a "computer techie" I can understand the intricacies of programming and the seemingly endless possibilities for programs to unexpectedly "go bad" because of issues with other software. I almost feel sorry for Vongo. Almost.

As a consumer, this has probably been one of the most frustrating experiences ever. Regardless of who is at fault, I still want Vongo off of my computer.

Take it or leave it, folks, but at least we have an answer.


Enmebaragesi said...


I just thought I'd take a moment to express my gratitude. I'm a guy who works on computers and networks, and I'm here spending my Saturday night surrounded by ten machines that won't go anywhere until I've done something to each of them. I've always got machines coming in and out -- it's what I do for money -- but today was special.

Today I had promised to have my cousin's laptop in complete operational order before I moved on to the other 9 computers which will actually earn me money. No big deal. I like putting family first, and fixing their computers for free when I could be earning money from fixing other people's makes me flatter myself that I'm actually useful to a family which has done much for me. So, I told my cousin I'd do his first -- knowing as I did, with my experience at this work, that his laptop would be a 1-3 hour job.

That was around 10am. Where I am it's now around 10pm. I could regale you with all the complex issues that go in to making an OEM computer truly secure and fully internet ready (if you didn't know already), but it will suffice to say that there are many little details to remember and complications to overcome. However, I'm used to it; it's what I do. So, I made all the changes, adjustments, tweaks, and modifications, and in about an hour and a half my cousin's laptop was nearly ready to face the constant barrage of tech-malice that is constantly shelling the no-mans-land we call the internet. I would have had his machine done before noon, and would have been on my way to spending the afternoon and evening earning a living.

But then I encountered Vongo.

That was around 11:30am or so, and like I say, it's now around 10pm. So, I told you all that -- about how I earn a living, and how today went -- so you'd understand why I stopped everything to sit still and whip off some typing for you. If I'd just have kept trying all the tricks and skills I have in my bag of experience, I suppose I could still be trying to remove Vongo 2 days from now. Without getting any other computers done. So, I'm grateful. Especially since it's clear (as you yourself point out) that you're not running the HP customer satisfaction web page, neither the Starz/Vongo support page, nor even a techie information page.

Incidentally (I suppose this is as good a place to mention as any) it is a cool blog. I really like what you're doing (irrespective of Vongo issues), and wish you the best with it. I especially like the blog entry "a god somewhere is crapping on me". I, too, have often remarked to myself what a character this god fellow is, and indeed wondered "what the hell is wrong with this guy?...."

But, of course, I found you because of my ruined day with HP and Vongo, and properly speaking it's for permitting these Vongo entries to remain up in your blog that I'm thanking you. That's one point I'm unequivocally with Mr. Brownrigg on. He says, "I appreciate you offering me a forum to..." and I'm right with him: thanks for the forum. It really is appreciated.

I've searched and searched, and found several pertinent sites. Several places have included attempted fixes, suggested approaches, and various proposals and technical analyses. But, actually, I felt I really only became truly informed on the matter when I encountered your blog and its included entries by you and Brownrigg on the topic.

Giving Brownrigg and his employer the benefit of the doubt -- which, as a person who aspires to reasonableness, I am willing to do until the appearance of evidence to the contrary -- and accepting his description as accurate, I'm simply relieved to be able to stop guessing and searching. It does in fact seem that Starz/Vongo may have simply, suddenly encountered an unexpected and unforeseen problem, to which there proved to be no fully adequate solution. I'm a IT businessman myself, and I know from experience that, unfortunately, sometimes such unwelcome and unsatisfactory challenges occur and are unavoidable. The overwriting by Macrovision he describes certainly sounds like such a problem to me.

Good call (again, assuming the accuracy of the post) on dumping Macrovision, Mr. Brownrigg. In fact, it sounds to me like if it all happened that way Starz/Vongo -- and maybe even HP too -- should be seeking compensation from Macrovision, for the marketplace damage from this is very remarkable (I've been reading consumer posts which paint a fairly vivid picture of foam on mouths and veins pulsing on foreheads). Doubtless Macrovision has prefab lawyer text associated with all their developer tools which is designed to indemnify them for failures, but after all, judges sometimes overlook such claims to indemnification, especially with IT products.

I, too, darn near feel sorry for Mr. Brownrigg, particularly since he seems to be attempting to do what he can to remedy the situation. (At least he's trying to offer an explanation; I can't count how many other times I see developers/manufacturers just running for the hills -- usually the hills of British Columbia ski resorts or Carribean islands -- and leaving the users hanging. Let me tell you sometime about the time I got a bad board from MSI which my wholesaler wouldn't take back: you've never seen a big company suddenly vanish without a trace so completely and so fast.) Judging by the majority of the many, many other blog and thread posts I've read by other unhappy [pronounce "furious"] consumers on this Vongo issue, I'd say Mr. Brownrigg and his associates will soon be searching the dictionary for better expressions than "fiasco" or "commercial travesty" -- if they aren't already. And here I must offer the opinion that he is to be applauded for attempting to do the right thing with a miserable situation, and as for myself I do applaud his clear and explicit post to your blog, Floreksa.

However (a pretty big however here), I quite agree with you that from a consumer perspective, these unwarranted, and heretofore unexampled, difficulties foisted upon us represent a grossly unreasonable burden for us, the consumers, to bear with our half of the bargain. And moreover (also as you say), these ameliorative efforts, in the form of explanatory comments posted on the web, should have been forthcoming far sooner and in a much more appropriate and public place. For that, I can see no excuse.

In particular, it strikes me that HP is especially the villain here, since we (or, more accurately, you and my cousin) didn't strike a bargain with Vongo, but rather with HP. You bought an HP product. It's clear all over the web that this issue was immediately troublesome to consumers, and therefore has been recognized for many, many months. Why do we not hear from HP? As you point out, Floreksa, why does a web search of the issue result in pages belonging to individuals -- nary an HP web page among them? "Fiasco" just begins the description. The term "bad faith" (not to say "fraud") comes to mind, in view of HP's silence.

Users with a modicum of tech experience -- let alone IT professionals who grasp the intimacies of things like editing the registry -- tend to follow established customs in removing unwanted software, and generally it isn't customarily high on the list to contact the developer of the unwanted software. After seeking an uninstall, and then on to Add/Remove Programs and other standards, it seems typical to search google and tech groups for technical information. Only far down the line, as nearly a last resort, do I usually hear of users finally throwing up their hands and targeting the developer for help. So, I can't agree with Mr. Brownrigg's tone and implication that contacting Starz/Vongo was the obvious and immediate thing for everyone to do.

But, thanks to Floreksa for making this information readily accessible, at least I can now spend the rest of the night in profitable activities. I will try some of the suggested fixes. And, Mr. Brownrigg may be pleased to know, if I'm unsatisfied, I will look for assistance from

But no matter what solution I arrive at for my circumstances, I'll still be wondering how HP permitted this situation to develop and remain, with no redress or even comment.

Obviously, just another proof that we consumers must stick together! Thanks again Floreksa.


P.S. I love Bill Watterson too. Kudos on your blog.