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User Beware

Week of August 23, 2004

Microsoft's track record in making fixes that work is less than stellar. It created the problems of XP in the first place, and now Microsoft wants us to think it found a lot of fixes. I'm not buying.
 - Al Fasoldt

Microsoft has a massive patch for some of the many bugs and security holes in Windows XP. If you're using Windows XP, you might want to download the software patch and install it.

But then maybe you shouldn't.

The patch, called SP2 (for 'Service Pack 2'), would seem like a good idea. After all, security is a nightmare for Windows users, and anything that boosts security should be a good thing.

But I am urging Windows XP users to be cautious. Microsoft's track record in making fixes that work is less than stellar.

It created the problems of XP in the first place, and now Microsoft wants us to think it found a lot of fixes.

I'm not buying.

I believe Microsoft should take full responsibility for the faulty design of Windows and recall every last copy of Windows ever sold. Buyers should get a working, safe, secure operating system in return.

Some say that's just not going to happen. But I can't find anything in the realm of common sense that requires Ford or General Motors or any other automobile manufacturer to act responsibly by recalling defective vehicles while leaving Microsoft free to do as it pleases in its monopoly software market.

Some say I'm crazy to expect such a thing. But this crazy guy isn't letting up. I'd even like to see Microsoft put a warning label on Windows, just like the warning label on packs of cigarettes.

People need to be reminded that Windows is unsafe. There are millions of copies of non-XP versions of Windows in use worldwide, and these unsafe versions - Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows 2000 and Windows NT - are not covered by the latest service pack.

In light of Microsoft's record and because of the current flood of Windows spyware and Windows viruses - an uncountable number of spyware infections and an estimated 125,000 active Windows viruses as of this month - I recommend two approaches.

Make a change

I urge anyone who uses Windows to consider the two main alternatives to the Windows operating systems, Mac OS X and Linux. Both are much safer than any version of Windows and are free from spyware. There are only a few viruses for Linux PCs and none for Mac OS X.

Linux has a big advantage: It can be installed as a replacement for Windows on just about any Windows PC. Mac OS X is an operating system designed for Apple's Macintosh computers, so you have to change from a PC to a Mac to switch to OS X.

But Mac OS X has a huge advantage. Apple makes the Macintosh computers and the OS X operating system, and they work together seamlessly, without the problems that plague many Windows computers and some Linux PCs.

Nobody else makes the computer and the operating system. Apple's advantage here is immense.

Wait for the fix

If you have to stick with Windows and you're using Windows XP, don't install Microsoft's patch yet.

Microsoft seldom gets things right the first time. Let the brave and the foolhardy find the bugs in Microsoft's bug-fix software, and let the hackers find the security holes in Microsoft's security-hole patches.

Then, after the company has fixed the fix, go ahead and install Service Pack 2. I'd guess the best waiting period is two or three months.

In the meantime, Windows XP users who don't want to switch to OS X or Linux should check with Microsoft for problems it knows about with SP2.

For a list of dozens of programs that SP2 will interfere with, go to Microsoft Support.

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