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Dry Stones

Week of September 14, 2003

'If you want to make a stone wet, spit on it many times.'
  -- Old Nordic Proverb

This was the Summer of the Blaster, they're saying. Microsoft release a patch in May which crashes 600,000 computers, and by the time they are told about the RPC vulnerabilities, network administrators have had it. When Microsoft warn the world two months later about yet more security leaks in their fine products, no one listens - and understandably, and for the aforementioned reason.

Then Blaster hits - and hits again, and again, and again. Then SoBig hits. And still, after all the scrambling and patching, several weeks later, the Internet is not secure.

There have been a lot of ideas circulating during this time - mostly it's the same (or similar) talking heads, espousing the same old ideas, selling e-zine real estate, regurgitating what at least yours truly expected the world to learn years ago.

When ILOVEYOU hit, it was for me the final verification that Microsoft products were shit. I have never been able to understand how people could use such a shitty email client as Outlook. Yes, I had tried it a couple of times (as highest-level MSDN Radsoft got all this stuff 'for free') but I found it enervating and annoying and have never looked back.

And looking at how dorky the programmers in Redmond are in the wake of ILOVEYOU, I was not one bit surprised. I'd worked side by side with these morons for years, and I often wondered when the morning after hangover would occur.

ILOVEYOU was that hangover. But did people wisen up? Did Microsoft suddenly get better? Did the millions of idiotic PC home users get a clue and get away? Did the corporate offices across the globe who used MS Exchange get a clue? Did the idiots who mindlessly clicked on 'ILOVEYOU' in their Outlook Inbox take the warnings seriously?

No to all the above questions. Nothing changed - not one iota. AnnaK came towards Xmas that year precisely because the author was pissed that people couldn't wisen up.

And so it's gone. It's become a big industry. First you don the black hat and scare the shit out of everybody, then you switch to the white hat and offer to protect them for a princely fee. And if you're good enough, the FBI will put you in jail, and then they'll tell their friends in the Pentagon about you, and when you get out early on good behaviour the DoD will pick you up for a 7-digit salary and you're set for life.

No one earns anything by all of this. All this labour and exertion, and no gross national product anywhere benefits. It's all shit - merde, ca-ca, birdie doo-doo, horse puckey, moose spills, lion shares, gorilla stools, monkey mess, aardvark tracks. It doesn't help us one iota in our daily lives.

Ars Technica has come out with a brilliant idea: Demand everyone online first get an Internet drivers licence. How original. I proposed this over two years ago in a published dialog with Michelle Delio of Wired. And even I wasn't original: my kids all have PC drivers licences which they got from their schools.

But it would never work in the commercial world, just as Microsoft MCP diplomas are essentially less than worthless: ISPs want people to sign up and give them money, and they're not about to suffer a limitation on their revenues. The fact of the matter is that most home computer users are too intellectually challenged to make it.

The only halfway original idea that's come out of this latest inexcusable debacle with Microsoft engineering is Jim Rapoza's. Jim writes for eWEEK, and most often writes a number of very good columns.

Jim's idea is that ordinary users neither want nor should have PCs. PCs are too powerful, says Jim. Ordinary home users should have 'Internet appliances' instead.

This is in keeping with Mark Minasi's observation that personal computer technology rarely approaches the reliability and ease of use of the average washing machine, even though both are run by electronic circuitry. Mark looks forward to a day where personal computers - and even computers in general - will achieve this level of 'appliance' reliability and stability.

It seems ages ago that Sydney and I walked into a Gateway Country store to see a demonstration of their hottest laptop, only to leave the store totally dismayed, as the very available staff there simply could not get a DVD to perform on it - or on any other laptop, for that matter. On the one, the system simply refused to react - it didn't recognise a DVD had been inserted; on the next, multiple programs reared their heads and fought tooth and claw to get control of the disc, with no one winning; and so forth. This was a demonstration of why ordinary home users should never have PCs with Windows - why, for that matter, no one, no matter the professional level, should have to deal with such nonsense.

Apple computers are appliances. Yes they are. It's an oft-quoted adage that with an Apple, 'it just works'. And it does. I am yet another living proof of that. Apple gives me no problems at all.

And it's Unix under the bonnet. And yes, it feels good to get back to Unix after all these years with kiddie toy variants like MS-DOS and Windows. Unix is complex, but it doesn't hide any dirty dark secrets the way Microsoft and Windows do. What is there is there. There's no risk downloaded software is going to play tricks on you - there's no way they can get away with it if they tried.

And even though the Mac was one of the first targets for virus writers, it's relatively safe today. I might not be willing to guarantee the imperviousness of Cocoa, with its house of cards NextStep architecture, but to get that far the virus or worm has to surmount any number of further obstacles which make the entire process impractical for the malevolent hacker out there.

Yes, Linux users, Linux is rather impervious to virus and worm attacks too, but if there's one system that definitely cannot ascribe to the adage 'it just works', it's Linux. True, once you have it set up, it will work - for a while, until you need something new - and as it's all open source, you will know exactly what you have on disc and what it's doing, but it's not an 'appliance' by any means.

At the end of the day, there's nothing to be said about this latest MS Blaster epidemic. It's all been said before. And it should be enough to say it once. The world should wise up and learn from its mistakes.

But the world does not do that. The world, taken collectively, is remarkably stupid. The world, taken collectively, is very resourceful when it comes to inventing excuses for its stupidity. Time and again, insomuch as nothing ever changes, the same calamities hit.

And they don't just hit the cerebrally disenfranchised Windows users - they hit everyone. The entire Internet gets clogged. Tom Liston and Dr Gerry will sit there with their tarpits and watch how their servers and others get literally carpet bombed by all these probes. Yes, LaBrea stops the worst of it from happening, but the traffic jam won't disappear until people stop using Microsoft products on the Internet.

And as the morons already know this to be the case, and as they show absolutely no sign of reacting, of getting off their probably incredibly fat and lethargic asses and doing something about it - why then should we, no matter how much we suffer, say a single word?

So I won't. I won't say a single word. Regard the above as having never been written. I sure didn't write it.


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