posted Feb 18, 2005

I said it before when the EULA for Service Pack 2 came out, but it's time to say it again: It really is time to abandon Microsoft Windows. This time, I say this because of this sort of thing: Not only are the spyware authors developing faster than Microsoft can, they are now firmly venturing into the territory where Microsoft can't win, even in theory, without drastic measures that few users are going to take.

And this one's not an esoteric legal argument that even I have to concede most likely won't matter practically; this is an argument based on the fact that not only is it impossible to keep your Windows machine clean if you use it on the Internet, it will soon be impossible to clean your machine after the fact without a full, clean re-install of the OS and all programs. (Technically, you don't quite have to wipe the hard drive, you could leave data on there, but all programs must be removed; any or all of them could have been changed to re-infect the machine, even on a clean OS. This isn't even as hard as it sounds.) Unclean Windows machines rapidly become unusable due to the resources consumed by the spyware and other even nastier stuff.

My nightmare would be, if I used Windows, being a child-porn conduit and not even knowing it until the FBI busted down my door. It seems to me once they've decided you're a child porn peddler, it would take a lot to unconvince them, and God help you if you go to prison for any time at all, even accidentally or waiting for trial, on that charge. How likely is this? I don't precisely know, but it is plausible enough to reasonably concern me, especially as there are other things that compromised Windows machines do like spam people and participate in Distributed Denial of Service attacks that are enough to really bother me, and in a lot of cases, at the very least end up with your Internet connection terminated.

The spyware and worse writers are getting good, and unlike spammers, they seem to have some people on board with real skill. Lately it's taken a skilled operator just to stem the tide.... but with the rootkits and attacks coming up now, even a skilled operator will have to resort to periodic complete re-installations to be sure they are clean, and given that a "re-installation" can take two days+ and you can get re-infected quite before you update (a single typo in your browser and it can be all over), that's not practical.

I personally run Linux and feel no particular fear, but I'm not ready to promote that to everyone; if you feel the desire, go for it, the recent distributions designed for end-users are getting quite good, but my impression is they still work best if your machine is at least a year old or so. (I'm going to fire a message off to the Linux group I belong to to get an up-to-date recommendation for brand new users coming off Windows; I run Gentoo and while I love it, it's about one step down from the geekiest distro there is and I do not recommend it for most people. Look here for recommendation, probably sometime tomorrow.)

I think for my wife, if we ever have trouble with our Windows machine (which I've hardened to the extent possible and put behind a hardware firewall), I'm going to try to talk her into a Mac Mini. But fixing the Windows machine, again, just isn't on my agenda. (Heck, with what I'm making hourly one Windows repair session almost pays for the Mac Mini, so it'd be doubly absurd; such sessions really do get into the 10-20-hour range now if you're starting from an original XP CD, what with all the updating and updating and updating and updating you have to do, followed by all the app re-installations... granted, you're sitting there for the most part but the process requires just enough interaction that you can't just walk away and leave it...)

 

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