The Program Files folder

12 April 2006
Here we are in 2006. We've gone through (and are still going through) a bunch of attacks on our PCs from malware. With every service pack, Windows is getting to be more secure. We've recognized that running as a standard user is a good thing to do from a safety viewpoint because standard users can't write to important folders like Windows or Program Files. Windows Vista is going to change the landscape on this front, because we're going to have to explicitly mark user accounts as Administrators instead of having them default as such.

So why on earth do programs still try and write user files like configuration files to their install folder under Program Files? I run as LUA on my tablet unless I need to install a program or driver. I love well-written applications that write configuration and documents to the Documents and Settings folder (mmm, there's a hint there in the name, don't you think?) and I loathe programs that assume I'm running as admin and write to Program Files (because they just crash or they don't save important information). There are two I suffer because they provide good functionality for me (and indeed one of them I just have to run through a batch file that logs me on as Administrator).

Of course I know why programs do this. It's because their developers run as admins all the time. Their QA people run as admin all the time (they have to install every release to test it and it's just easier to be admin to do that). So, all you developers out there: do you run as a standard user? Even more important, do you test your application as a standard user? Do it now, before your customers get Vista and find out that it won't work properly. In .NET, it's easy to get at the right folder for the user under Documents and Settings.

Similarly we, as users, shouldn't be adding files or folders to Program Files to store our stuff. It's bloody stupid and shortsighted. A well-written application that does store its documents and configuration under Documents and Settings is well within its rights to just delete its folder in Program Files to uninstall (all the user stuff is elsewhere right?). Heck, we are always complaining that uninstall programs leave "droppings" all over the place, so we shouldn't assume that if we save in Foo's Program Files folder it'll survive an uninstall. We, as users, should be using Documents and Settings as well.


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