Monday, March 13, 2006

The Worm That Didn't Turn Up

Read (yet again) about the prevalence of worms, spyware and viruses among Windows users. This pretty much sums up how I feel about the dangers of the MS Windows computing monoculture [PDF] (although I've been Windows-free since 1995). A choice quote:
In my case, for example, I have not used a Windows machine for any serious purpose since 1999. And in those six years, I have never had a computer virus, trojan or worm. Not a single one. Neither has any adware or spyware taken over my browser (which also comes with a facility for automatically blocking pop-up windows as well as the ability to do tabbed browsing). And all this despite being connected to the net 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The author asks the question why do people put up with a constant barrage spyware, adware, viruses and other malware? I think the answer is simple - people will use whatever software and operating system comes with their PC, and MS's exclusive OEM agreements with consumer hardware retailers pretty much guarantees what that will be. As is often painfully recognized by most geeks, the vast majority of consumers just don't care, don't have time, or don't even want to know that there are alternatives. They use what comes with the PC they buy, period. The business world is slightly different, in that the people provisioning workplace PC's are generally more tech-savvy than the average consumer. So what drives the madness in the workplace? One word - Office. For most people, it's just not convenient to work with anything but MS Office. In any given workday, they are guaranteed to have to receive and send all sorts of email attachments with their business peers, and they don't want to have to think about document format conversion, since their peers use Office, too. It's even worse for example, in accounting departments, because they tend to make heavy use of Excel spreadsheet features that are just not supported by alternatives like OpenOffice.org. The networking community's exclusive use of Visio is another example, but even worse, since there are no pieces of FOSS that can import or export Visio file formats.

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