After years of reading thousands of spam e-mail messages and doing everything they suggest, my main regret is that I still don't have larger breasts. It's not just e-mail I find persuasive. I also do everything that Microsoft recommends, too. I use all the company's products and upgrade them whenever I get the word from HQ.
All too often, though, I'm disappointed. Like many people with Windows 2000 installations, I've dutifully trotted off periodically to Microsoft's special site for Windows drivers, known as hardware-update.com. Windows 2000 suggests that you go there a lot. Here are a few examples:
If you try to play a DVD on your computer but the latest driver for your DVD hardware isn't installed, you'll get an error message about a missing "DVD decoder" and will be told to go to hardware-update.com.
If Windows 2000 is installed for the first time and notices that a PC's BIOS isn't adequate, you see a pretty blue screen that lets you know this. It says, "Contact your system manufacturer or visit www.hardware-update.com."
The whole W2K operating system is on the lookout for opportunities to direct you to hardware-update.com. References to this domain name are embedded in such system files as NTkrnlpa.exe and NTOSkrnl.exe.
For a time, hardware-update.com had useful information and plenty of new drivers. But then a funny thing happened. At some point, Microsoft lost control of the hardware-update.com domain name. Now it's run by Ultimate Search (ultimatesearch.com), a company in Hong Kong, which uses the site to display sponsored links that aren't labeled as ads.
UltSearch, as it's called, is in the business of snapping up domains the minute the names expire if the original owners fail to renew them. According to NamePursuit.com, a competitor, UltSearch has acquired more than 100,000 domain names this way and collects millions of dollars a year from the ad links that people click.
Here's how it works. The new hardware-update.com looks like a search engine that's showing results for the query "Windows 2000." But each link in fact goes to an advertiser that pays UltSearch a few dollars for every click-through. There's nothing at UltSearch's site that says how much each advertiser pays. The company didn't respond to an e-mail inquiry, and the phone number listed in its domain-name registration doesn't work.
The amounts for each advertiser can be substantial. According to SitePoint, UltSearch obtains its sponsored links through the well-known, pay-per-click Overture service and receives 50 percent of each advertiser's bid. One of the top advertisers on hardware-update.com, an e-tailer named Software Media, is currently bidding at Overture as much as $3.13 for each click-through related to "Windows 2000" searches.
Microsoft has made a small but significant contribution to UltSearch's coffers by allowing it to reregister the name of hardware-update.com. Using this and its other Web sites, UltSearch is able to attract millions of visitors because old content can remain in listings for months or years.
A Microsoft spokeswoman confirmed that "hardware-update.com is not a Microsoft-owned Web site" but wasn't able to provide a contact person responsible for it. Nonetheless, Microsoft products send a lot of traffic UltSearch's way. Despite the fact that the domain name isn't under Redmond's guiding hand, links to hardware-update.com are still promoted in Microsoft's online Knowledge Base, TechNet and many other places.
I guess I'll keep opening my e-mail and reading Microsoft error messages and doing what they say. I may continue to be disappointed. But I don't think UltSearch will be disappointed if it receives a very, very large check from Microsoft to buy the neglected domain name back.
Brian Livingston is editor of BriansBuzz.com and co-author of "Windows Me Secrets" and nine other books. His column appears every other week in eWEEK. To reach him, visit BriansBuzz.com/contact. Send your comments to eWEEK@ziffdavis.com.