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Week of October 31, 2004

Losers always whine. Winners fuck the prom queen.
 - Sean Connery

This is an iBook. It's an Apple low end laptop. It sells for $999. It requires no additional software to run and run securely on the Internet.

The firewall is a Unix standard and built in. All you have to do is go into your so-called system preferences and turn it on. If you don't turn it on, all your ports will send back resets; if you turn it on, your ports won't respond: you won't be there. There are no open ports, and there are no characteristic Windows ports in the 130s range which would give you away as a likely target, and as you're running Unix and not Windows, you're not a likely target anyway.

The iBook is built with an alloy that makes it exceptionally indestructible. It's the ideal computer for students because it fits nicely in a back pack but won't show signs of wear and tear. It's hard to even scratch its surface.

iBooks wake up immediately when you open them. Almost all functions come into play as soon as the lid is open.

You don't run an iBook as an 'administrator' with the same type of privileges as on a Windows box. You are a member of the 'admin' group but you cannot escalate your privileges in the same easy fashion you can on Windows. Which means that if intruders ever did get onto your system, they'd not be able to hijack you in the same way. Without full privileges a malfeasant program cannot do much damage.

When you do want to escalate your privileges, you have to prove who you are by authenticating with your own password - it's not enough that you are already logged in: you have to prove it again. Any hijacker will be presented with this stumbling block and fail in an attempt to compromise your system.

Unix has gone through a long evolution, but Unix was designed from the outset as a multi-user system with proprietary areas for each user and certain 'out of bounds' areas belonging to the system. You cannot add or delete files from these system areas and you cannot modify files here either. And if you can't, then intruders can't either.

Unix has despite all had its share of holes over the years, but patching it has been more a lesson in being complete than in having to gut an entire design. The design of Unix was correct from the beginning; finding where intruders could fool the system and plugging the holes has been the work of many expert programmers for tens of years now. No system is completely secure, but Unix is built right so it can continually get more security as is needed. Unfortunately Windows doesn't have this ability, as it wasn't designed right from the outset. In fact, Windows wasn't designed at all - making it all the worse from a security perspective. The issues with Windows security you read so much about are merely symptomatic of the bigger problem: the system itself. The stream of exploits will never end.

(As if you realistically believed this after all these years?)

There are Windows user forums where people contend Radsoft and Rixstep think all Windows users are losers. This is correct. The formal definition of a loser is someone who does not want to - who consciously chooses not to - win.

In this case we have people who are barraged with attacks and calamities no serious computer scientist would ever tolerate, and this at such a frenetic tempo as to make the mind spin, and yet these people, fully aware freedom and security wait on the other side, refuse to make the leap, refuse to act in their own best interests, and continue instead to fight the expensive war which only makes them dissatisfied.

The Internet is not supposed to be a school playground. Its purpose is not to provide an arena where immature types can battle it out in virtual struggles, mail bombing one another, trying to infect and hurt one another - Tim Berners-Lee's vision has nothing to do with this. It's supposed to be fifth column, a free exchange of ideas and information, where people are able to learn things, visit their virtual libraries, communicate with one another, correspond with one another from vantage points halfway around the globe. It's supposed to be a place where people can gradually evolve into a greater global and international understanding, to help bring people together on this curious planet third from the sun.

Rarely does a Windows user have time for this anymore. Infections by the carload, trojans, spyware, keystroke loggers, viruses, phishing scams, 419 letters, bombs made possible by the poor architectural design teams in Redmond (or lack thereof) - Windows users are AFRAID.

But there is no reason to be afraid. There never has been.

Dell have started a new campaign. For only $799 you can get an ugly Dell Dimension desktop that's bulky and takes up a lot of valuable space, is a true eyesore spruced up by the lacklustre Dell designers - and which generally lacks all the really interesting features Apple give you 'for free'.

The iBook comes with an overclocked Motorola PowerPC processor running at about 1GHz. What this speed does not tell you (Dell will feature primitive Intel processors with two or three times that speed) is that all the graphics work goes through a different channel known as 'Altivec' - Intel computers have to do all the graphics themselves.

Also, Intel processors have a high 'RPM' but do a lot of spinning for nothing. The big mainframes that keep governments together won't be running at the same speeds as an Intel, but they'll do a lot more work a lot faster, because their 'architecture' is superior. So it is with the PowerPC - a processor definition twenty years more modern than Intel's. The PowerPC does computing for our age and beyond; the Intel should have been shelved a quarter of a century ago.

The low end iBook comes with a 1.2GHz PowerPC, 512 KB L2 cache running at the same speed (<-- note), a brilliant 12' TFT display (TFT is the best if you didn't know) with a resolution of 1024 x 768 making for striking colours, 256 MB SDRAM (which is plenty on an Apple with their OS X operating system), a 30 GB ATA drive, a 'combo' drive which burns CDs and reads both CDs and DVDs, an ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 video card, 32 MB DDR VRAM, and something called AirPort Extreme built in.

AirPort Extreme is especially handy, as with your convenient iBook you can sit almost anywhere and establish wireless communications in your home. Curl up on a sofa and watch the news and answer your mail at the same time. Starting now, you're free to do what you want where you want it, with no limits.

[Observe that this is all included in the price - none of this are 'add-ons'.]

You also get gobs of software for free too. You get Quicken, MS Office 2004 Test Drive, AppleWorks 6 (which is the rough equivalent), the World Book Encyclopedia (very cool), and the games Nanosaur 2 and Marble Blast Gold.

The iBook also comes with Bluetooth connectivity built in - more wireless capabilities for you and yours. You also get a FireWire 400 port and two USB 2.0 ports.

You've got all you need and more. In fact odds are you'll never use all of this stuff, the computer is so over-equipped.

Apple have the lowest hardware return rate in the industry, even beating out IBM. This is partially due to the frenetic quality constraints their factories have, and also due to the fact that computers generally come fully equipped, so that they can be extensively tested in this configuration before shipping. Your average Windows PC manufacturer won't worry about this: if the box boots Windows, it's OK. Ship.

Above the open source Unix kernel Apple have an amazing product in OS X. This is the result of all the research done by NeXT Computer and is technologically light years ahead of everything else being done in the open source (Linux) field. Whilst a Linux kernel and an Apple Unix (MACH) kernel can be judged as roughly equivalent (with an edge to Apple for greater security and stability with MACH), when it comes to the 'GUI' there is no contest.

To fully appreciate the dramatic difference, you're going to have to see an Apple computer in action. Colours on screen are defined by four floating point (and not integer) values, including the so-called 'alpha channel' for opacity and transparency. Pixels on an Apple screen are namely 'shared' between different windows. Windows and menus both can be transparent when they're not in focus, making for a striking and very efficient user feedback (not to say it's absolutely gorgeous).

Screen coordinates are also expressed in floating point, and the display system is not rasterised or bitmapped as it's sometimes called, it's 'vectorised'. The primitives in the system don't actually have any operations for painting a single screen pixel: everything, including the most minute little spot, is actually a drawn rectangle with a specified width, height, and opacity.

The actual rendering engine used is based on the original NeXT system which was a collaboration between NeXT and Adobe called 'EPS'. EPS evolved into PDF, and it's PDF you see on your Apple desktop today.

The Apple iBook comes with the standard Apple Mail program which is all Outlook never was and more. You can do a lot more things with this program, and it's beautiful as all Apple programs, doesn't compromise you, cannot itself be compromised, and doesn't bloat and spread on your disk like the Blob. It's a nice program.

The Apple iBook also comes with Safari, perhaps the fastest web browser ever made. Safari has an incredibly sophisticated 'brushed metal' interface, and if you use some of the other programs on your disk to look very closely at this interface, you will see it's actually created by a very elaborate mathematical equation - that almost every 'pixel' has a unique colour. That's class.

Safari has tabbed browsing, can block all popups (and not just some) and makes it very easy to keep yourself to good security settings. What's more, Safari can 'spoof' other browsers so the sites you visit think you're running Windows and Internet Explorer for example. It's a great tool for the Internet, very likely the best browser anywhere for any platform. And it's incredibly simple to use.

The operating system also comes with an address book application integrated with the mail application, a very spiffy calculator (you can erase things off the tape - has to be seen to be believed), a way out clock reminiscent of NeXT, a DVD player, a Quicktime (MOV, MP3, SWF) player, a graphics format converter, a full-blown text editor cum word processor, an activity (CPU, process) monitor, a colour meter, a disk copying and disk repair utility (you won't need the latter much), a display calibrator (same thing but nice to have around), a network utility bundle with Ping, Whois, and all the traditional diagnostic tools - and a 'console' called Terminal which can use when you turn into a Unix guru.

Running Unix like this on an Apple iBook is no big deal. The computer is set up to be secure out of the box. The US FBI swear by these machines. If you don't want to venture into Unix territory, you won't have to, but the power is there anytime you want it.

In fact, the full Unix subsystem will give you an additional 900 [sic] programs to play around with.

Integration on an Apple is a big thing; things 'just work' and they work well together. You get multilingual [sic] spell checking everywhere in twelve languages simultaneously [sic]. You have voice integration so you can talk to your computer at any time instead of typing in at the keyboard, and have the computer read text to you instead of your having to read it yourself. And you get two dozen voices to choose from, from the somewhat dippy 'techno' voices to the sultry Victoria. The list includes contributions from Agnes, Albert, BadNews, Bahh, Bells, Boing, Bruce, Bubbles, Cellos, Deranged, Fred, GoodNews, Hysterical, Junior, Kathy, Organ, Princess (more like the Princess and the Pea princess), Ralph (not King Ralph), Trinoids, the effervescent Victoria, Whisper, and ZARVOX.

They can also tell you jokes. Seriously. You tell them 'tell me a joke' and they'll give you one liners and knock-knocks. Until you tell them to shut up that is. 'Go away!' you'll say after a while, desperate for silence, and they'll say 'OK, back to work!' and they'll dutifully shut up.

Hunting down rogue programs is never difficult on a Unix box. There are no really good places to hide, and the kind of technology necessary on Windows with all its nooks and crannies is never going to be needed here. A simple command line that takes you five seconds to type in is all you will ever need.

OS X also comes with a glittering System Preferences 'control panel' so you can control all you'll ever need to control and more.

There is no Registry. The user settings system is 'domain based' and infinitely flexible. It's no chore to correct faulty apps if their settings get out of control (which they never will but still and all) and it's no feat to see where your app settings go and what they contain. It's all 'hermetically sealed' individual files so no one file can ever get corrupt and threaten the system.

$999. Only $200 (to the penny) more than that ugly Dell. The Dell doesn't beat the iBook in a single category.

Buy the iBook and put your Windows miseries behind you forever. Stop being a Windows (l)user.

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