[Paul Ferris: RANT_MODE=1] This Christmas, give the gift that doesn't keep on taking ...

Posted by PaulFerris on Dec 16, 2004 8:41 AM EDT
LXer; By Paul (FeriCyde) Ferris
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Here we are, December of 2004. Roughly 6 years after the government brought suit against Microsoft for blatant anti-trust violation. They had gotten into trouble for bolting Internet Explorer into Windows 98, remember?

FeriCyde Chat
by Paul Ferris
A long December, and there's reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last...
-- Counting Crows A Long December

Here we are in December of 2004. It's been roughly 6 years since the government brought suit against Microsoft for blatant anti-trust violation. They had gotten into trouble for bolting Internet Explorer into Windows 98, remember?

As usual, the judge and almost everyone else that was paying attention agreed that they had broken the law. Also as usual, they got off the hook with a slap on the wrist.

Now for the funny part. In July of this year, whilst some of the remaining states (MA and ND) were more or less giving up on real justice for Microsoft -- related directly to the fact that U.S. consumers were harmed -- another arm of our government (the Department of Homeland Security) was busy telling those very same Americans to switch to Mozilla based browsers -- because it's safer. Most people didn't notice those two events. They happened right around Independence day of this year. What Irony.

But don't worry, consumers have not been harmed. It's a hallucination that all of you technologically savvy people have been out helping people with Windows-related security "issues". You know, neighbors, relatives, friends and complete strangers. You're busy helping them reload, repair and replace windows so that they can get it re-infected in, how much time would you say here?

  • 3 minutes: Broadband router without anti-virus/firewall.
  • 3 days: Router with firewall and someone clueless at the keyboard, say clicking on multiple spyware-infecting web pages.
  • 3 weeks: Router with firewall and someone less clueless at the keyboard, getting some attachment from Nigeria that promises to make their hair (or God knows what else) grow longer.
  • 3 months: All of the above, only the person isn't clueless about everything, they just forgot to update their virus defs, or had a relative or friend use their computer and blow the entire thing.
Sound familiar? Don't tell me that it doesn't for those of you who have Windows contacts that continually bug you for advice, tips and (of course) lots of your "spare" time to come over and give the ole' PC a once-over.

I've tried my best to give up on this kind of time for myself, but from time to time I do attempt to help. Lately, I've given over to having people take the most severe cases to a PC shop. I tell them (honestly) that I no longer understand enough about Windows to help them fix their virus problems.

While this is true on the surface, the deeper truth is that, like learning to bungee jump with piano wire, I find little value in learning the finer nuances of how to clean Windows PCs of viruses. For the most part, it's not (in my opinion) a valuable sport to pick up. Much more satisfying is helping people convert their desktop experiences to GNU/Linux.

For the rare occasion when I do actually help someone clear up a Windows-related issue, I always refuse to be paid under the condition that (honestly) they please "don't tell your friends that I can do this."

And I'm serious. As a virus attack.

I can hear the keyboard activity from here:
"Ferris, Linux is just as insecure as Windows! There are just less viruses right now for Linux because so few people use it! You [expletive deleted] piece of trash! Go and get a clue! When [insert some mind-blowingly imaginative time frame] and Linux has a desktop presence that intrigues the virus writers, it will be just as [more offensive expletive deleted] and infected as Windows is today."

To which I already have a the following responses prepared (See, I'm all about saving you time and embarrassment):

"It doesn't matter."

There, that wasn't so bad, was it?

You see, even ignoring my (somewhat biased on the Linux side) opinion that if Linux had a majority share, it would be more secure by leaps and bounds than Windows is today. Even ignoring the evidence that Free Software, in a majority market share has less virus exploits written for it. It seriously doesn't matter. This is because the simple, relevent and boring fact is, most viruses at this very moment and for the forseeable future are ...

(drum-roll please)

Being written for Microsoft Windows, and not Linux.

Let me illustrate this with a real world example. Let's take my brother, Art, for example. I took an old piece of hardware out of my vast collection in the basement, and loaded Fedora Core RC3 for him. Ran all the updates, got all the cool stuff. The box can now surf the web, has a firewall, has a mail client -- word processing, and a bunch of other cool software.

It's his Christmas present this year. Fundamentally, forgetting all about integrated SELinux, the integrated firewall, the multi-user aware nature of Linux and the like, it's just as insecure as Windows. Maybe.

Anybody want to lay odds on it getting a virus in the next two years? Let's not forget as well that by that time Longhorn, judging by Microsoft's own road-map, will still be in the works.

All the theory in the world about security in this context Does Not Matter to my brother Art. All that matters is that for now and the forseeable future he has a box that he can hook to his broadband router and surf the web during the rough waters. You know the times I'm talking about? During those times that, inevitably, his Windows box will have gone south because it was infected/crashed/misconfigured/breathed upon slightly.

At least, that's my prediction. I actually made a Linux box for him a few years ago and it survived a completely different form of attack. It survived the (darn-near-nuclear) abuse of 5 kids for over 3 years. They played games on it, rebooted it with the frequency of a disco-light, and it died finally from something like battery-failure if my memory serves me correctly.

So here's all I'm trying to say. You read this or that pundit in the media talk about how when Linux gets this or that market share it will be blah blah blah [attacked] by just as many yada yada yada [viruses/exploits] as Windows is today. Heck, the somewhat techno-savvy folks all around me are constantly repeating this droll like it came out of the bible.

This is just another form of the (extremely stupid in my humble opinion) statement that Microsoft has made the computing universe a better place. It's not that I do or don't believe that they have. I don't, for the record ... Surprise!. It's that just like the pundits spouting this kind of garbage, I don't have magical access to alternate realities. Like the magical fantasy reality where Microsoft is truly competing at the desktop level with an organization or company which holds something like 30 to 50 percent market share.

No one knows what that reality is truly like, so they can't take a gander over at, say, the cost of Windows in it. They certainly have no idea what the ease of use of the two products might be like, comparatively. Or, imagine this, the quality between the two products from a security perspective.

If they could visit these realities somehow (imagine using mushrooms in conjunction with the latest service pack for XP in some strange combination), they could in that case, truly tell if consumers had been harmed or not. They might also be able to tell if that world was worse or better. They might, in that context, truly be able to tell if consumers had been harmed.

Conversely these same people don't have access to the magical Linux kingdom reality. In that alternate reality, Linux has a 50% or better market share and is somehow being attacked by viruses that exploit it.


How long is a piece of hardware good for these days? 3 years maybe?

Maybe, just maybe, the virus threat in three years for Linux will be several orders of magnitude worse than today. I'm willing to wager, for myself and my brother Art's sake that it will still be way lower than the insanity and insecurity that Windows brings to his household today.

How much Linux capable hardware do you, dear geeky reader, have sitting around in your basement? How long to load Linux for a relative or friend that needs a rock to cling to in the chaotic, insecure digital storm of today? A rock that can be depended upon until Linux takes over, Microsoft releases LongShot -- er Longhorn -- or the virus/spyware writers learn to leverage yacc exploits in GNU/emacs? (There's a real Longhorn, er Long Shot for ya).

Give the gift that doesn't keep on taking time, hardware, anti-virus software and privacy. Do it today for that friend or relative. Make this coming year (and the next) better than the last...

RANT_MODE should not be attempted before your morning coffee.

RANT_MODE=1 is an LXER.COM feature. Please take the time to thank Dave Whitinger for the first truly all encompassing Linux community news website to appear in years. You may find this column here from time to time.

Paul (Fericyde) Ferris is a husband, father, Linux geek, and more. His opinions are his and his alone. He reminds you that the truth will set you free ... but first it will (probably) piss you off.

[1]MA and ND close case on MS
[2]homeland security recommends mozilla link
[3]link to article on apache infection relative to IIS,
[4]statistical measure of viruses for windows vs linux.

» Read more about: Story Type: Editorial; Groups: Community, Fedora, GNU, LXer, Microsoft

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Why not XP? dinotrac 7 2,502 Dec 19, 2004 3:35 PM
Maybe you should ask this for XMAS MESMERIC 2 2,285 Dec 17, 2004 4:37 PM
one kid at a time dthacker 2 2,364 Dec 16, 2004 10:06 PM

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