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Conventional Wisdom

Week of April 19, 2004

Conventional wisdom says the stereotypic Mac user is somewhere within the reach of the AOL grannie who thinks the Internet is 'like having a verbal chat - electronically'. Conventional wisdom says this adherent to the cult of Apple Computer has a rubber band in his pony tail, a faded Grateful Dead t-shirt, jeans made from organic hemp, Birkenstock sandals, and most likely lives in the greater San Francisco area.

Conventional wisdom also says that even if the stereotypic Windows user is clueless, circumstances especially in the past four years have given him a boost in his level of competence simply because he had to learn a new way of dealing with his computer and the malware attacks just to survive.

It's time to smash a little bit of this conventional wisdom.


1984 saw the introduction of the Macintosh, one of the first personal computers reputed to 'just work', but shortly after its introduction Apple founder and CEO Steven P Jobs left for the NeXT project, while those left behind concentrated on their one product (and, according to Jobs, lining their pockets). Things got extremely complicated. Until the release of OS X, Mac users were grappling with a crash-prone, single-threaded cooperative multitasking operating system where they had to strip fat binaries, configure RAM for their applications, and manage conflicting kernel extensions to get their boxes running. Things did not 'just work'.

Some Windows users saw the advent of true multitasking already in 1992 with the introduction of Windows NT 3.1. Others got a glimpse with the release of Windows 95. Windows 2000 and later Windows XP superseded the Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows Me environments, and Microsoft are today officially 32-bit and multitasking all the way.

Things are rough on the Windows platform. Not exactly the most secure operating environment ever invented, Windows - both the MS-DOS based and the NT-based - suffer from a number of architectural deficiencies which make Internet surfing extremely risky. Given this hostile environment, Windows users are supposedly more rugged today, as they have had to compensate themselves, through third party products and pure savvy, for what their operating systems were supposed to give them in the first place.

When the Macintosh was first released, the PC users were heard to clamour 'real computer users don't use a mouse - real computer users use a command line', and the one thing markedly absent all these years on the Macintosh was the command line.

In the meantime, Bill Gates and his cohorts struggled to get their washed-out counterparts to Unix shells out of the way, and at a grand unveiling of Windows XP Bill Gates made a show out of the news that with Windows XP 'the command line was gone for good'.

Apple decided to acquire NeXT Computer at the end of 1996; the following year, NeXT migrated en masse to Cupertino and Steve Jobs was reinstated as CEO. Coming out of the abortive Copland project, Apple began their migration to Unix.

Now the year is 2004, and substantial versions of OS X have been upon us for several years. The watershed is generally considered to be the release of 'Jaguar' on 24 August 2002. 2004 has also seen the highest frequency of malware targeting Windows systems ever - even higher than 2003, which was itself a record-setting year.

Microsoft and Windows XP made a big deal of making the command line disappear; Apple on the other hand introduce it for the first time in OS X with their Terminal application.

Yet outsiders were still not convinced this would change anything for traditional Mac users.


Serendipity led to massive attention to a free Rixstep application last week: an anti-rainmaker utility called 'CLIX' (command line interface for OS X). Simply put, CLIX catalogues good command lines and lesser shell scripts to give the newbie a way of 'harnessing the power of Unix' and to give the professional admin a sort of 'Rolodex' with which to archive and easily retrieve often used commands.

http://rixstep.com/4/0/clix

Amongst the companies trying out this application in the past week we notice (this is a long list):

The Army Belvoir Research and Development Center, Apple Computer, the Australian Department of Defence, the Bank of Bermuda, Bank One, the Banque National de Paris, German BASF, Baylor College of Medicine, Boston University, the California Department of Transportation, the California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, the CERN labs in Geneva, Charles Schwab & Co, Cornell University, Corning Inc, the Dartmouth Medical Center, Digital Equipment Corporation, Dupont, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the European Molecular Biology Lab, the European Synchotron Radiation Facility, Florida State University, General Electric, Georgetown University, Georgia State University, Global Crossing, Goodrich, the Government of South Australia, Harvard University, Hewlett-Packard, Hill Air Force Base, the Hiroshima Board of Education, the US House of Representatives, IBM Corporation in Armonk, Austin, and at the Watson Research Center in Yorktown, IKEA, Indiana University, the Institute for Defense Analyses, the Ionian University on Corfu, the University of Istanbul, the Italian Chambers of Commerce, the Goethe University in Germany, Johns Hopkins University, Johnson & Johnson, Kent State University, the Los Angeles County Office of Education, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lockheed-Martin Corporation, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Los Angeles Times, Massachusetts General Hospital at Harvard, Mattel, the Max Planck Institute, the Medical University of South Carolina, Memphis State University, Microsoft, Minnesota State University, Moscow State University, the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division, the NASA Ames Research Center, the NASA Glenn Research Center, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the NASA Langley Research Center, the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Naval Research Laboratory, the New York City Public School System, NOAA, the North Carolina Research and Education Network, North Dakota State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Ohio State University, Oklahoma State University, the Open University of London, the Oulo Polytechnic in Finland, Oxford University, the Pentagon, Kirtland Air Force Base, Pixar Entertainment, the University of Lublin in Poland, Princeton University, Qualcomm, the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, Raytheon, Ritsumeikan University in Japan, the San Diego Supercomputer Center, San Francisco State University, Sandia National Laboratories, Silicon Graphics, Sony of Europe, Stanford University, Sun Microsystems, the Swedish National Assembly, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Temple University, Texas A&M University, the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, Toho University in Japan, the Chicago Tribune, TV Guide, Utah State University, Vanderbilt University, Virginia Polytechnic, the Free University of Brussels, Whole Foods, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Yale University and the Yale-New Haven Medical Center, and the universities of Karlsruhe, Paderborn, Ulm, Antwerp, Belgrade, Bourgogne, Lausanne, Lille, Grenoble, London, Alberta, California, Chicago, Cyprus, Hamburg, Hawaii, Iceland, Illinois, Juvaskyla, Kalmar, Manchester, Massachusetts, Melbourne, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Newcastle, Nijmegen, North Texas, Oslo, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Sheffield, South Australia, Strathclyde, Sydney, Teesside, Utah, Vienna, Washington, Waterloo, Westminster, Windsor, Winnipeg, Wisconsin, and Zurich...

Just to name a few.

Clearly not all of these people are wearing ponytails and jeans made from organic hemp.

The FBI love Macs, and would use them exclusively if their budget permitted, because they're 'out of the box secure', and you know damned well the FBI would fool around with the command line.

A correlation of the number of page visits to the e-zines announcing the product with the actual number of downloads reveals that about 1/3 are intrigued enough to try it - a very high percentage for this type of thing.

This means roughly 1/3 of Mac users are not only not allergic to the command line, they want to learn more about it, and want to learn their new operating system Unix too.

This despite their platform never before having a command line, and their Apple Computer directly eschewing it.


All the while Earthlink published the results of their first three months of 'spyware auditing'. Computers (read: Microsoft computers) have been able to couple up to the Earthlink URL and be searched for resident malware.

The results were shocking. Earthlink report that of the over one million computers investigated during this period, the average machine was infected with over 28 malware programs. Earthlink found over 29 million malware programs running on the audited machines.

Mac users have had a long rough ride. Between the 'just works' of 1984 and the 'just works' of today, they've been hard put. They've remained loyal to their supplier, and when the eternal decree of no command line changed, they changed with it. Mac users are trying to survive.

Windows users, supposedly more savvy and with a higher computer IQ, seem not only to have not got the message, but to be worse off than ever.

Unix and Linux are the future. Mac users are already running Unix and doing their best to learn it as fast as they can. Windows users are still stuck in Windows and the vast majority of them do not know the first thing about Unix.

So much for conventional wisdom.

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