Apple made Safari version 3.1 available for Windows through its Software Update control panel and as a download from its Web site.

Mozilla CEO John Lilly on Friday lashed out at Apple for turning its software updating mechanism into a self-serving distribution channel for its Safari Web browser.

"What Apple is doing now with their Apple Software Update on Windows is wrong," Lilly said in a blog post on Friday. "It undermines the trust relationship great companies have with their customers, and that's bad -- not just for Apple, but for the security of the whole Web."

Mozilla makes the Firefox Web browser, which competes with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT)'s Internet Explorer and Apple's Safari.

On Tuesday, Apple released Safari 3.1, a new version of its Web browser. It made Safari available for Mac OS X and Windows through its Software Update control panel and as a download from its Web site.

What Lilly objects to is the fact that while Safari comes pre-installed on Apple's Macintosh computers, making version 3.1 an update, Apple's browser isn't standard issue on Windows machines. Apple has thus converted a channel previously used for patching existing software into a channel for distributing new software.

It's not yet clear whether recent market share gains on the part of Apple's Safari browser pose a threat to the usage of Mozilla's Firefox. Since the first quarter of 2006, both Safari and Firefox have gained market share, at the expense of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, according to figures from TheCounter.com and Net Applications. But Lilly's comments suggest worries about that possibility.

According to Net Applications, Microsoft Internet Explorer held 75.1% of Web browser market share in the first quarter of 2008, Mozilla's Firefox held 17.3%, and Apple's Safari held 5.8%.

"Apple has made it incredibly easy -- the default, even -- for users to install ride along software that they didn't ask for, and maybe didn't want," Lilly said. "This is wrong, and borders on malware distribution practices. It's wrong because it undermines the trust that we're all trying to build with users. Because it means that an update isn't just an update, but is maybe something more. Because it ultimately undermines the safety of users on the Web by eroding that relationship. It's a bad practice and should stop."

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

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