Reports are circulating on the nets and via "reputable" news sources that Windows 95 contains a "viral" feature called the Registration Wizard. This feature allegedly catalogs software and applications on a Windows 95 machine (and every system connected to it via a network), and then sends that information to Microsoft via Windows 95’s online registration system.
TidBITS is tired of hearing about this (we’re a Mac publication, folks!), so here’s the scoop. First, there’s nothing "viral" about the Registration Wizard – that word is just some dolt’s idea of sensational journalism. The Registration Wizard is an application that in no way propagates or spreads to other disks or machines.
Second, the Registration Wizard isn’t designed to sniff through your hard disk and find juicy letters or code snippets you may have written: it is designed as a technical support tool. Anyone who’s ever tried to help a Windows user over the phone knows why such a tool (and the system information it provides) would be useful. Microsoft Network – a separate beastie from the Registration Wizard, mind you – does upload information about the Windows 95 build and language installed (English, German, Dutch, etc.) so that users can take advantage of online updates without becoming a Certified MSN Upgrade Engineer. But remember, that’s a separate deal from the Registration Wizard.
Third, yes, the Registration Wizard can scan the system’s hard disk and compile information about the machine, including the installed software packages, but it does not look out onto any network the user might be connected to. To quote Russ Siegelman, General Manager of Microsoft Online Services, "this is done only with the user’s consent and is not required to complete the registration." The complete text of what the Registration Wizard sends is supposed to be available in the file \WINDOWS\REGINFO.TXT – and please don’t ask me to verify that.
If all this makes you nervous, just use the snail mail registration card – or better yet, buy a Mac. And – for our paranoid readers – don’t think other companies (Apple included) aren’t thinking about similar online system profiling and reporting. Remember, you may not know what AOL, eWorld, or your Web browser is doing behind your back. Oh, one last thing, no more mail about this, OK?