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The Myth of Market Share

Week of August 12, 2004

Consumer Reports are up in arms over the plight of 'personal computers'. Asked point blank on US national public radio if they would so much as consider another consumer product with the track record of the personal computer, the answer was given: 'no'.

Tonnes of information were given about how to protect oneself while connected to the Internet. Tonnes of information were given about what exactly a trojan is, what a computer virus is, what spyware is, and so forth.

Not a single time did anyone in the radio studio dare differentiate between the computer hardware and its operating system. To people such as even these, 'it's a computer' and that's it.

There are people who blame their hardware vendors for forcing them to suffer through a 'check disk routine' on every startup. There are people who have no clue whatsoever what operating system they're running, or even that they have one. To all these people, a computer is a computer - and that computer assumes Microsoft.

Things have even gone so far that connectivity providers are being blamed for the shortcomings in the operating system. 'If your provider doesn't give you a firewall you should change providers', says the Consumer Reports website.

But Linux users are not at all affected like Windows users, and Macintosh systems come with a built-in firewall - as they should. Seeing this as part of the domain of the vendor of the operating system is 'bleeding obvious'.

It's only Microsoft who have left customers in the lurch.

One of the big myths perpetuated by the Microsoft flunkies who've decided to stay on no matter the unpleasantries of being attacked all the time is that moving to another platform is futile, as the attacks will only start up there instead.

Thus even though attacks fall almost exclusively on Microsoft products today and rarely if ever fall on products from any other vendor, these people consider the safety factor about the same.

Which is of course ridiculous. Safety is not a question of rooting for your home team; it's a matter of keeping oneself safe.

Linux and Unix variants such as BSD do not have the track record of Microsoft. Users of these systems rarely worry about attacks, and they have no reason to do so either.

Macintosh users are almost totally isolated from the woes and worries their x86 brethren go through.

Yet according to the Windows fanatics, the risks - and the overall experience - have to be about the equivalent, because Microsoft are only attacked - and attacked successfully - because of their inordinate market share.

When the FBI say as they do that they'd rather work exclusively with Macintosh computers, they're not fooling around. Theirs is the job of security; their first concern is not ease of use or the well-designed Macintosh interface. The FBI can't afford to be hacked.

And they don't worry about why it is so; they don't worry about or try to calculate any market share. They're pragmatists: they know they're safer on a Mac. That's a fact.

Most educated and intelligent people are able to understand why Unix is intrinsically such a safe system and why Windows in its very bones is doomed to always be insecure. Yet even if this weren't true, the equation would be a simple one to solve: do one of two things.

  1. Stay with Windows and get the shit kicked out of you again tomorrow.

  2. Switch to another platform today and wave good-bye to all the nonsense.

If we ever see farther down the line how well Unix holds up to the concerted terror of the world's new cybercriminals is a matter we'll come to when we come to it, not sooner, and there's no reason to rush it. By then things might have changed again and people will be found flocking to yet another haven.

But for today and the foreseeable future there is precious little to deliberate. x86 machines aren't made to last anyway: by the time your Dellway wears out (within the first year) you'll have your chance to switch again if you need to.

And if you played it smarter and opted for an Apple, you can still be running the same system and same box years from now and just as blissfully unaware as you are today.

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