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The RealPlayer Comet Cursor crashing saga

All to do with failed Net access attempts

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Following on from our story yesterday that the latest version of RealPlayer was crashing PCs, we've had some very interesting emails. The blame has been put at the door of a small piece of software called Comet Cursor.

First thing this morning we had an email from the marketing director of Cursor, Ben Austin. "I read through the Deja newsgroup you pointed me to. It is clear what this is - someone in the newsgroup called the Comet Cursor 'spyware' and people are debating whether it is or is not 'spyware'. The allegations of this started in November 1999, when the Associated Press ran a story implying that the Comet Cursor tracked users. The AP has since corrected that story." The email then goes on to list loads of URLs saying that the software isn't spyware.

So what you say? Well, we never asked Comet about spyware allegations, we asked simply if it had any reports of the software conflicting with graphics cards. Funny. And sure enough, the emails from readers saying that Cursor is spyware started flooding in.

We're not going to get involved in the spyware debate. It was widely reported by the press almost exactly a year ago, thanks to an Associated Press piece, and then widely retracted just as fast when Comet complained (AP, incidentally, never retracted or "corrected" its story). Spyware or not, the Cursor software does attempt to contact Comet systems without informing the user that that is what it is doing. It is this process that is causing some machines to crash.

The problem isn't widely encountered in the States because a large number of people are permanently connected to the Net. The conflict only occurs if the program is refused access to the Net. This will happen when a dial-up account is broken and explains why people are complaining that as soon as they close Internet Explorer, the PC crashes. The fault lies in programmers (more than likely RealPlayer programmers but the Cursor software is the spark) not dealing with failed Net access requests properly.

As one reader pointed out, there is no such problem with Microsoft's MediaPlayer. So it would seem that RealPlayer has something to learn from the Beast of Redmond. Bit depressing. ®

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