Would you download an exe from this site?

 | 3 min

Hands up how many people would download an unexpected exe from some site they'd just found on google? A site with no content except for four exe files?. Not many I'd bet, well, not many sensible ones at least. So what made the people at this site think this was a good way to provide everyone with access to their product catalogues?

First, to set the scene, I was looking for information about cake decorating tools and books, and came across http://www.cake-bitz.co.nz/ (which looks like it was created in Frontpage, but that's another story). I clicked on the Books link, and was presented with this:

Cake Bitz - link to catalogue

Fair enough, I thought (not really paying attention), maybe its a PDF catalogue. I've encountered plenty of those around the place. I dutifully clicked the link, only to have this pop up:

Cake Bitz - download dialog for books.exe

books.exe?!? I know enough about 'safe computing' to know not to run an exe unless I know what it is, and I have never seen any kind of catalogue in exe format. I was especially wary since I was using a new computer that didn't have a virus checker installed yet.

I cancelled the download and looked around the site a bit futher. I very swiftly realised that the site has almost no content, except for four exe files to download. Only the fact that they had a real address and telephone number displayed on every page kept me from concluding the site was some kind of scam. Even that was not enough reassurance for me to actually download the file right then.

Still, I was curious, and later when I was at work, protected by my employer's trusted Norton Antivirus, I downloaded the file. Norton never said anything, so I ran it, and this was what happened to my desktop:

Cake Bitz - catalogue completely took over my desktop

Everything gone, even the start bar. The only clue as to what to do was hidden down in the bottom right hand corner of the 'book':

Cake Bitz - clik to turn page

Then, while I was contemplating the bad spelling and poor colour contrast, the page turned, with a slow page-turn animation, opening the 'book'. I didn't even 'clik' anything! The book then kept automatically turning pages, not quite even giving me enough time to scan the contents of the current spread. This with the 'cute' page turning animation for a total of 10 pages. And then we reach the back cover, where we finally learn how to get rid of the putrid purple and get our desktop back:

Cake Bitz - how to remove the background

You only get a very small amount of information on each page. In fact, you could probably get the entire e-book contents onto a couple of screens of html, and you could even add navigation. I also discovered that if you take manual control of the page turning by clicking the arrows, then the automatic page turning does actually stop (the animation persists though). Just for fun, I printed it. It prints out on 10 pages, with most of the printed page blank around the small e-book pages in the middle.

Now, setting aside the problems with this particular e-book metaphor (which I'll deal with elsewhere), I wonder just how many people will actually get useful information out of these e-books? You have to download some undeclared exe, run it and have it obliterate your entire desktop while you wonder what else it's doing, and then scroll though it page by small page, with no table of contents to guide you, and no way of closing it except on the front or back cover.

How many people would bother, when there are plenty of other sites offering the same information in a much more accessible format?