Software gnomes

Every now and then I’ll receive an angry email from someone lambasting me for installing my software on their machine, which always surprises me since you have to download TopStyle and FeedDemon and then manually install them – so it’s not like this is something I force people to do. I’ve talked with other shareware developers – none of whom do anything remotely spyware-like – who have run into the same problem, and we’re never sure how to respond.

It usually turns out that the person downloaded a trial version, installed it, then completely forgot about it. When they find it again, they assume that I somehow secretly installed it on their computer. Like I’m some sort of software gnome who visits people during the night, installing my products while they sleep.

This morning I received two such emails, which is especially strange since they’re usually so rare. The first was short and to the point:

“Stop installing software on my machine goddamnit!!”

The second threatened to contact the FBI:

“Hello, today I discoverd your crappy software on my machine. I just wanted you to know that you have a f—-d up piece of s–t for a product. I plan to forward your company information to the proper authorities since you think it is OK to install it on peoples machines without permission. I consider this kind of thing disgusting and will make sure you are not allowed to continue this practice. Promise.”

Usually I provide a canned reply letting them know that our software doesn’t install itself, etc. But since I received two complaints in the same day, I have to wonder if I’m missing something here. Perhaps there really are software gnomes running wild?

33 thoughts on “Software gnomes

  1. Could it be they got TopStyle Lite installed with an older version of Homesite? That might explain it better than the user just forgetting about it…

  2. Eli, I did have a complaint in the past that was due to TopStyle Lite being installed by HomeSite, but I haven’t received another complaint caused by this in quite some time.

  3. I like the thrill of breaking into people’s houses, but I dont want to steal anything… so I just install Feeddemon… you want me to stop?

  4. I wonder if these same morons email Bill Gates to complain that he installed Windows on their machines without their knowing it…
    OTOH, BG deserves such abuse more than you do… ;-)

  5. I wish I would have known about the gnomes before I purchased FeedDemon. :-)
    What do these Gnomes like? I could set out some baite for one.

  6. I’ve had a few strange e-mails like those myself, being a shareware/freeware author as well.
    My personal favourite was someone who installed one of my apps, discovered they didn’t like it and then threatened to find out where I live and ‘send the boys round’ because I had dared to release such a ‘awful piece of software’.

  7. I know of another web dev tool that installs topstyle. Which is consequently how I found out about it. I noticed it in my programs folder and opened it up and then read the help file to see WTH it was. Been hooked ever since. I wonder if these gnomes are on comission? I mean two emails basically hating you for, well no reason whatsover. How many people use your products due to a surprise install (I am assuming only topstyle in that complaint list) from a freeware web dev tool.. time for a poll!

  8. Perhaps you could write a log file during the install and when people complain to you you can ask them for the install log and you can show them who installed it and when, etc. That might shut some people up.
    I also think Simon might be on the right track with the shared computer.

  9. This reminds me of my situation–I run a couple of “quote of the day” mailing lists with about 40,000 total subscribers. They’re voluntary lists with a double-opt-in confirmation so nobody is accidentally subscribed.
    About once a week, I get a message saying “ST0P SPAMMING ME YOU MORONS” or words to that effect. Apparently people subscribe, read it for a week or two, then decide it’s spam and freak out. Or something.
    Again, gnomes could be the answer. (I’m buying TopStyle soon. Does the installed-by-gnomes option cost extra?)

  10. I forgot to mention: my strategy for those people is to remove them from the list, then ignore them. I find that responding to them just lets them know there’s a live target they can continue to attack. It got really ugly once or twice. On one occasion I reported someone for abuse and threats and got them kicked off their ISP.

  11. Perhaps these are the same people that are getting visits from Santa and the tooth fairy. But we need to look further into what’s going on here. At first glance, I would have guessed it was the ‘Underpants Gnomes’ (from SouthPark)… perhaps they had gotten all the underpants they needed and moved on to installing software as their new job. Whatever the case, I was suggest they go climb the beanstalk that’s up in their backyard and stop wasting everyone’s time.

  12. Just a guess.. but are all these complaints coming from people with AOL addresses?

  13. Your software is also bundled in WPS 3 (in a version on homesite as mentioned) I would think ppl get erked by not paying attention when it installed thinking it was just a homesite install.. I found your software way after I spent a lot of time trying to figure out CSS on my own (topstyle was installed) Now i am getting my hands dirty playing with it.

  14. There are several shareware/freeware programs that install Topstyle Lite when they are installed. It’s kind of a selling point to use their software, although sometimes they don’t tell you your gettin this extra package.

  15. Софтверные гномы

    Вот и Ник Бредбери пишет о том, что в его почтовый ящик приходят письма, в которых его обвиняют в том, что он без ведома пользователей устанавливает в их компьютерах свои программы: Обычно получается так, что пользователи скачивают ознакомительную верс…

  16. I don’t like being paranoid and negative, but my first thoughts were: ‘Two in one day! This must be spam, or pirates trying to con a free serial number’.
    I’m still wondering if my first thoughts were correct!

  17. I read a number of computer magazines a month which give away CDs or DVDs containing software. I’ll occasionally install some program or other, decide it’s not worth using, then promptly forget it. Perhaps a year or so later I’ll come across it again and wonder what it is and why I installed it. I think I’m more computer-savvy than many people, so I don’t assume that software gnomes have been round installing programs unasked, but I can see how some people might think along those lines. :-)

  18. Software Gnomes

    We’ve never gotten an email like this: Hello, today I discoverd your crappy software on my machine. I just wanted you to know that you have a f—-d up piece of s–t for a product. I plan to forward your…

  19. Nick,
    increasingly I find users blame anything that goes wrong with their computer on whatever software they have recently installed.
    Withthe increasing prevalence of pernicious spyware, and viruses, and most people’s complete lack of understanding of security, and aboveall a certain OS developers security problems, this is not going to get any better in a hurry.

  20. I run a website that recommends “great” software, so I’m constantly installing something and testing it daily. However, the only time I get perturbed is when developers don’t take the time to write an uninstall routine, and I have to clean out my registry and delete dead folders under the Program Files folder.

  21. Just reply to them with the URL of this blog entry (and comments) and let them know that millions of people around the world know who the real pieces of s#%t are.

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