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The Ignorance of Joe (L)user

Week of 28 September 2006


Things are bad on the Windows platform. No, they're BAD. No, not BAD, they're BAD BAD. No, they're even worse. Alpha and Joshu cook it up, comparing notes from trips behind enemy lines.

Alpha

This needs to be said.

Another Windows box, another 4 hours of my time rescuing it from all of the ills in the world and saving ignorant Windows (l)users from themselves. After a while, it begins to feel like a losing battle. A computer literacy test ought to be required for every PC purchase...

Whenever I am asked to fix a friend or a family friend's Windows box, I always expect the worst. My tools usually include copies of Ad-Aware SE, Spybot Search & Destroy, ClamWin, and SysInternals' Rootkit Revealer. All of those programs are free and whenever I mention them to those (l)users, I am immediately greeted with suspicion. How can they be FREE? Aren't you supposed to pay for Norton like anyone else? One chap just blew $150 on Norton only to find that it failed to live up to the task of protecting his PC. On a PC I just recently rescued? ZoneAlarm, NAV, and the like couldn't stop Windows from being infected with over 120 pieces of spyware, adware, and data miners. Fortunately I have yet to come across a box that has been compromised by a rootkit.

It absolutely blows my mind as to how just doing something so simple as surfing the web can cripple Windows. I have no idea how some XP Home boxes can even be recovered without complete reinstalls.

Reinstalls are never a walk in the park as some would like you to believe. First of all, most (l)users who need to recover their boxes are never prepared for it. They don't keep backups, they don't have external hard drives let alone know what they are and what they're used for, and if they even had a spare drive somewhere, more often than not their Windows box is a vegetable. But that's not the worst of it.

Nowadays, PCs do not even come with physical recovery tools. Instead, you're expected to access some hidden partition on your hard drive. If your drive gives out or if you decide to get your feet wet in Linux? Sorry, sucka. At best, you might get those recovery CDs if you're great about cogently explaining away why you really need them and that you are not out to steal from Bill's loot. How then, are (l)users supposed to recover their machines? Oh, that's right: they don't know how to.

To top it all off, I don't even know how I am even qualified to be doing these recoveries. I'm a Linux (and former Mac) guy, yet I always seem to be pulled into Billy Boy's mess. Unfortunately, whenever I fix someone's box the responsibility and blame lay squarely on me instead of where it belongs at the feet of Gates and Ballmer.

Ignorance often breeds ignorance. Time and time again the (l)users peer over my shoulder, questioning my points and clicks around their system as if I'm going to wreak further havoc. When I explain to them why I need to run several programs to remove the malware and to check for rootkits, they ask me what else they need to buy to protect them. Sometimes, they'll even throw their hands up and politely ask me to stop rescuing their machine. 'That's okay. This PC is garbage anyway. I'm going to go out to Best Buy and get a new one.' Mind you, these PCs are relatively new (2 years or less) and perfectly usable with a little TLC.

If it's bad enough where I need to bring in Knoppix and an external drive, they'll smile and refuse. 'No really, it's okay. My crappy PC is dead.' Uhm, yeah. Along with all of your digital photos and documents. You're just going to throw all of that out...

Meanwhile, Billy Boy and the so-called AV industry are laughing all the way to the bank...

If you find yourself dealing with Windows (l)users and their broken boxes, and you cannot convince them to at least give Linux a try, here is what you can do to help make their lives a little more pleasant in Billy's Bullshit:

1. Password protect all accounts and restrict administrator access to at least one of them. In reality, this may be quite difficult as many programs will insist on administrator privileges.

2. Neuter Internet Explorer. This is quite possibly the biggest culprit for all of the adware and spyware on the box to begin with bigger holes than the ones in the ozone layer. Install Privoxy and tighten down the user.action file. Point all HTTP requests to localhost at port 8118. Offer to install Firefox and Thunderbird as replacements for IE and Outlook (you may end up having a hard time selling the idea to some). Make them the defaults and don't allow IE to wrestle for the position (e.g. turn off default checking). Remove Internet Explorer from the start menu list of recent programs. Give Firefox the following extensions if you can: AdBlock, AdBlock Filterset.G Updater, Fasterfox, User Agent Switcher, and SwitchProxy. If Privoxy's user.action file is too tight, you can use SwitchProxy to turn it off and the user will still be able to browse ad-free thanks to AdBlock. Some may also suggest NoScript but you don't want to panic the (l)user who may not know what to do with it.

3. Offer to install Ad-Aware Personal SE, Spybot Search & Destroy, and ClamWin. Some swear by AVG; I don't know - I haven't tried it for myself. Emphasize that they need to run these often and to keep them updated. You'd be surprised at how outdated the definition files are. You'd even be more surprised to know that quite a number of (l)users are lulled into a false sense of security by merely installing NAV and failing to update the definitions.

4. Show the (l)users how to delete unnecessary temp files that are gobbling up HDD space.

5. Show the (l)users how to defragment their hard drives and explain why they should do so. On just about every box I rescued, Windows was in serious need of defragmenting.

If Windows is so trashed that reinstalling is the only option, look no further than a Linux live CD. The easiest and cheapest way to recover a (l)user's data and to prepare their box for a reinstall is to grab and burn a Knoppix ISO. Attach your external, boot up the live CD, mount your external and make it writable, and you're all set.

Looking from the other side of the fence, I have to wonder how 91% of the computing world puts up with this on a day-to-day basis. As if the recent VML exploit wasn't enough.

Joshu

You're right on the money with your post!

I went through a similar ordeal a couple of weeks ago. It began like many Windows nightmares. T'was a dark and stormy night... A friend of ours, a very nice old lady closing in on 80, has an ailing PC. For some reason I couldn't say no and promised to take a look at the box.

This is unusual for me, because I've been able to say no for the past 18 months and have been INFINITELY BETTER OFF because of it. Twelve years of Windows = Suffering. 18 months without Windows = Bliss. Did I learn from my experience?

Heck no.

The lady is old. You just KNOW she's going to get exploited. Heartstrings get pulled. SO says I have to do this. Nobody among my computer illiterate friends understands what I mean by 'Windows is dangerous'. They think I'm just obstinate when I refuse to 'help' them with their 'computer' issues. And I AM obstinate, most of the time.

The utterly depressing truth is that people really do equate computers with Windows. Windows issues are 'computer problems'. It's stated with mindnumbing regularity as if it were a law of nature.

So, there I was.

It was clear to me before even looking at the box that our friend would benefit from a Mac Mini for ease of use and compatibility with Word and Excel (...which she has to have. Her bookkeeper, also a nice old lady, claims she needs Excel.) There's no way I can recommend Ubuntu to her at this point.

The box is a Compaq Presario, purchased in late 2001 or early 2002 with XP Home on it, 256 RAM, and NEVER since updated.

Take a deep breath. Feel the goosebumps.

No updates. No maintenance. No cleaning up of temporary internet files and cookies. No defragging. No anti-virus software. No firewall.

And now the bad news.

It turns out that the grandchildren used the machine when they came for a visit and installed games, realplayer, and other stuff, straight from browsing the web with IE. Their own account had no admin privileges, but they were able to log in to grandma's account because it didn't have a password but made up for that by having admin privileges.

Makes sense. As a grandchild, I'd do the same.

The box was spared a complete meltdown because it was turned off 95 per cent of the time, and the broadband connection is recent.

But my god!

Every couple minutes a restart was required. The machine ran like a car on two cylinders going uphill on a hot day. I typed the first account of this story on my PB as I watched time go by, LIFE going by, the ancient box laboring, Windows code executing bullshit, can't remove certain programs, can't find this and that, hangs on shutting down, sputters on starting up. Click on a button and you never know what happens next. A failed JSRE install consumed resources. A partially uninstalled realplayer made unhappy noises. A dubious svchost.exe process consumed 99% of the cpu...

There was the issue of backing up some files, otherwise I would have formatted the HD right away.

For curiosity's sake I ran a few programs. Adaware found only 163 'critical' boogers (I had expected at least a couple thousand). I ended up running Kaspersky, ClamWin, Spybot, CCleaner, even a trial version of NAV. I added ZoneAlarm to the mix, to see if it had gotten any better since I last saw it two years ago (it hasn't). It made a big fuss over intrusion attempts within 2 seconds of completing its install (I tracked the 'intrusion' with my PB: it was actually comcast wanting to access the box. A genuine intrusion.)

A pattern emerged. Unplug the box from the comcast cable and things were borderline. You could click on Word, wait 10 minutes, and it would start. But as soon as the machine got a live broadband connection pandemonium ensued. I wonder what it could be...

Klaus Knopper is a saint. Insert the Knoppix live CD, take a look at stuff. Amazing what you can find at no extra charge. There was the matter of a 'hidden partition' outside the Windows partition, just shy of 8 MB, at the tail end of the drive...

Okay, no more Mr. Nice Guy...

I returned the box with XP reinstalled, SP2 installed, MS Office, Firefox, Ad-Aware, ClamWin, etc. The ladies will be using webmail, so no Outlook/Thunderbird needed. Everything's fresh, crisp, clean and snappy. Even on a mere 256 MB of RAM. Better than new. It doesn't have all that compaq BS installed. I ordered a second memory stick to bring the RAM to 512 MB, but the first one I received was faulty. Waiting for a functioning stick.

I all but placed a skull & crossbones symbol on the box. I think Windows boxes should come with a toxic waste warning and an international radiation sticker. Plus biohazard label.

You think (E. Coli in) spinach is bad?! Try Windows!

I impressed on our friend just how risky it is to use Windows software. I used a lot of medical terminology. Think Ebola! I detailed the security vulnerabilities and all the things she must do to protect herself. Told her it is HER machine and not even comcast has a right to sneak in at night and spy on her box. Implored her - in writing - to get rid of the box and buy a Mac. She's not penniless. She can do it.

While she is not penniless, she is certainly clueless when it comes to her box. In that she's not alone...

We need for this lady to have an OS with a totally fool proof simplistic interface that provides a SAFE internet experience. A machine that doesn't crash and force her to call the local rent-a-nerd place which hires ex cons and then gains access to a ton of confidential records (the lady is a Jungian analyst and is still working). In fact, we need for her to not have to buy a new box to safeguard her computing. We need for her to KEEP her current machine (no lock-ins, hardware, software or otherwise), have her OS swapped, and retain all her records and accounting functionality.

Her and 900 million other PC users.

Do the Research

Do the research yourself. Do it now. A few links follow. Click on them. Read. Learn. And if you're a shop, start planning your migration. And if you're a kitchen table user, leave Windows now.

Don't wait another minute.

Given a choice of continued revenues in the billions or seeing you damaged, the choice is easy for humanitarian Bill: Windows must not change; it must remain endemically insecure; journalists must again be commissioned to spread the hype and the lies, and prevent you from learning the truth.

It's a comprehensive marketing plan geared to making you keep buying Windows.

See Also
BrowserShield
Windows Defender
Windows Workshop
The Rise and Fall of Windows
Who Cares?
You cannot log on to Windows XP after you remove Wsaupdater.exe
User Beware
The Vista Screenshots
Windows OneCare Live
Writing on the Wall
MS ActiveArmageddon®
Bringing clarity to your world
Shoulders of Giants
How Windows is @#$%ing You
Gates' War on Terrorism
Long Live the Registry
The Myth of LUA
Spyware
Magical Vista Tour
MS ActiveVapor Revisited
Rants Come, Rants Go
Why We Don't Upgrade to Win2K
Of ThinkPads & Trojans
Windows Requires Work Which Hinders Use
It's Dèjá Vu All Over Again
This Week's Windows News: The Nyxem Countdown
Could It Be Any More DEPressing?
What a Shame
Bill Sucks
Vapori$e M$
They Ain't Got It
IE Se7en 7W0
The Long Wait
At Last!
iBook
Windows XP Service Pack 2
What To Do (To Be Secure)
F.C.U.K.
Making Your Puter Purr
Ou Ou The Sky Is Falling!
Backdoor.Ginwui's Back
Are You Ready?
Consumer Alert - Microsoft
Anthology MS: Greatest Hits
For all his $G
Server attacks stump Microsoft
Too Many Fish In The Sea
Bug Free Code™
High Hopes
Zeroes
XPSP2 Update IV: Chaos & Confusion
Run Run Run
No Flaw
What's Running?
XPSP2 Update VII: ActiveImelda®
Vista Leaks!
Clean Machines
Service Pack 3
€280 Million

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