Critics are calling it one of the most destructive software bugs in years. Microsoft is calling it a feature.
At issue is the ability of users of FrontPage 98, Microsoft's Web site creation and editing tool, to designate their entire hard drive as their FrontPage file folder and then to delete that folder--in the process deleting the entire contents of their hard drive.
"This is not a scenario that is going to affect a lot of users," concedes Bruce Brown, editor of BugNet, which today published an alert on the matter. "But for someone who does stumble into this scenario, it is very, very bad news."
According to Microsoft, for FrontPage 98 users to delete the contents of their hard drive they have to follow a number of specific steps and override warnings in the process.
FrontPage automatically creates a folder called "c:\my_web" in which to place the user's FrontPage-generated Web files. This folder is called a "web." In the hard drive deletion scenario, users have to first delete this default folder, then create a new one and designate it "c:\," or the computer's hard drive. At this point a dialogue box will ask for confirmation that the user wants to designate the web as "c:\."
Next, users must delete that folder, at which time a dialogue box will warn that the deletion will permanently erase all the files under that directory. If users OK this dialogue box, the contents of their hard drive are permanently trashed.
Microsoft published an article on the issue in March.
FrontPage program manager Mike Angiulo said that users might logically choose to devote an entire hard drive to Web files, and therefore Microsoft doesn't consider the ability to designate a hard drive as such--or to delete the contents of that drive--a bug.
But he did say that in future versions of FrontPage Microsoft would expand the dialogue boxes to clarify what exactly the user may be about to delete.
In the meantime, Microsoft is recommending that users "always create disk-based webs in a subfolder of the root of the hard disk."
BugNet's Brown called Microsoft's response inadequate.
"When there is this kind of danger, I would like to see the vendor do more than just say 'don't do that,'" Brown said. "I salute the expansion of capabilities, but any kind of reasonable prudence dictates that the system has to be able to differentiate when files are web files and when they're not."