Posted by Matthew Gerring 5 Comments

Using Windows is like driving an exploding car.

I guess I should start this by introducing myself – My name is Matthew, and I’m the web developer (and more recently, the bike messenger) for EMRL. I’ve been here since December, mostly keeping to myself.

One thing I’ve discovered since I started working here is just how much I dislike Microsoft. Internet Explorer is the main reason, but I won’t go into that now. There are plenty of other good reasons.

At first glance, this might seem backwards; free and open-source software are the gold standard of security.

Yesterday, the New York Times had a story about Conficker, a Windows virus that emerged last October and has already infected up to 15 million computers. Its purpose is to hijack your machine and use it as part of a “botnet“.

The botnet is set to activate on April 1st, and while nobody knows what’s going to happen, it’s not hard to guess- a botnet is basically an extremely powerful web server that can’t be shut down (since it’s spread out around the world), and the hackers behind it can use it or rent it out to whoever might need it, for any illegal purpose you can imagine.

The New York Times article includes this completely ridiculous statement:

The inability of the world’s best computer security technologists to gain the upper hand against anonymous but determined cybercriminals is viewed by a growing number of those involved in the fight as evidence of a fundamental security weakness in the global network.

Aside from not attributing the quote to anyone, there’s a big, fat, glaring error there- this worm does not affect you unless you’re running Windows, including the new, “more secure” Windows Vista. That means it’s a problem with Windows, not the network it uses.

A commenter on NYT’s Bits blog gets it right-

Putting anti-virus software on an MS Windows computer is like installing fire extinguishers in a house made of straw.

When you absolutely need your software to work, you don’t use Windows. EMRL, the U.S. military, the Obama campaign, system administrators everywhere, and the hackers behind the Conficker botnet, all know this. You use Linux. Even the Mac operating system runs on Unix, which is the same thing Linux is based on. And best of all, it’s free.

At first glance, this seems backwards. Microsoft uses strict anti-piracy mesaures and closed-source code for “security reasons”, and yet, free and open-source software are the gold standard of security.

So what gives? This guy explains it better than I ever could, and he has a lot of great advice for all you business owners out there, too.

Here’s another way to think of it– Imagine if there was a car company that didn’t allow anyone to write a manual, and put a special lock on your hood that nobody but a trained employee of that car company was able to open.

Blaming the Internet for this mess would be like trying to blame the freeway for exploding cars.

Now imagine that there’s a critical problem with those cars that causes them to blow up if you drive too fast. Anyone driving that car, and anyone nearby, is at risk, and only a handful of people have the ability to fix it.

Now imagine that 90% of the cars on the freeway are made by this company.

Blaming the Internet for the Conficker mess would be like trying to blame the freeway for the exploding cars.

Unfortunately, we do use Windows at EMRL to make stuff. We run security updates regularly, and so should you.

The best way to avoid this worm, and the inevitable next one, is to not use Windows  or Microsoft software at all. There are plenty of good alternatives. Besides getting a Mac, you can help yourself out by looking at these alternatives to Internet Explorer, and this alternative to Windows.

Drive safe.

  • Windows is pretty annoying, true. If I had my way we’d all still be using Amiga computers, but we need the applications made by people like Adobe that just aren’t available on alternative platforms like the Linux thingie you referenced. And emulators on Linux seem to be messy, for normal people anyhow.

    Back when EMRL started, the Apples were still in System 9 days and man they sucked bad. So now we’re in Windows-land and just have to deal with it, for now at least.

  • I’ve said it since the beginning and I’ll repeat it till the end: Microsoft sucks! I started with an amiga, the had to work on a mac (which, I do agree, is less vulnerable to viruses) and then I made the mistake of getting a windows based PC. I’ve been using it for at least 10 years now and I still don’t like it. I do, however, not use Internet Explorer, Office or any of the otherMicrosoft software. I tried Ubuntu (Linux), but it just doesn’t run all the applications I use -or I haven’t been able to find them yet… If I had my way, I’d be using an Amiga right now, thank God somebody is going to give me one one of these days. Now the trick is to find the right software for it, but there is quite a lot I can download. Feels like coming home…

  • I still have bunch of Amiga stuff, although I haven’t used it in quite a long time. Some of our earlier TV spots were cut on our old Newtek Flyer, its video compression looked so nice back then compared to most others.

  • Exploding cars with crumple zones and wind bags protect you in a crash where as MS Window’s does not ..

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