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© October 2003 Steggy

Editor's note:
Like me, Steggy didn't like the comments of an editorial I mentioned at Monoculture may be bad, but it's unavoidable. This is his response (cited text id from Is Computer Monoculture The Way Of The World?).

By Steggy
BCS Technology Limited
Web Site: https://www.bcstechnology.net

Nobody was ever forced to buy a Microsoft product. Everyone who has ever bought a Microsoft product has chosen to do so and has done so over the alternatives, which have always included computers from Apple and UNIX-based computers, and now include Linux from numerous sources, many of them free.

How can you say something that naive? The fact that Microsoft has been proven to threaten and coerce PC builders into not shipping "alternatives" like UNIX and Linux demonstrates that end users are being forced to buy Microsoft products. Of course, Bill Gates and friends don't directly put the strong arm to the average PC buyer. However, by virtue of not being given or made aware of a choice at the time of purchase, PC buyers are being forced into using Microsoft products. Tell me, Mr. Seltzer, when you were first given a computer at your office, were you offered a choice in operating systems and applications? Were you given a choice when you bought your home computer? Be truthful, now.

As for referring to UNIX or Linux as "alternatives," users of those operating systems might take umbrage to your implied denigration. UNIX and Linux run the majority of the systems attached to the Internet (including the machine through which this message was relayed and the machine where you pick up your E-mail), as well as the systems that do most of the heavy lifting in large corporate settings. UNIX runs almost everything in our office, excepting two PC's which run Windows (and those machines get their file and print services from Samba running on UNIX).

Really knowledgeable and open minded IT professionals use the best tools for the job, rather than allow their decisions to be clouded by vendor favoritism. I will be the first one to state that UNIX or Linux, or Apple products, for that matter, are not always the best choice for any one application. However, your saying, in effect, "Windows everywhere" tells me that, for you at least, open-mindeness seems to be secondary to vendor allegiance.

Like anyone else, governments have the ability to buy non-Microsoft products. That they still buy a lot of Windows computers tells me that they think Windows is the best fit (or at least the lowest bid).

I can't believe you'd say something this ridiculous! Bureaucrats are highly susceptible to political coercion and, all too often, make decisions for the sake of job security, not efficiency and economy. If a political appointee's sponsor is the beneficiary of a campaign contribution from Microsoft, it's a pretty safe bet that said appointee is not going to order his/her underlings to replace Windows with Linux, no matter how compelling a business case might be made to support such a move. The basic principle of not going against the wishes of the boss applies as much in government offices as it does in their civilian counterparts.

Speculate instead, about a world in which multiple operating systems are in widespread use. In terms of security we would almost certainly be better off, even though most of those operating systems have their own rich sets of vulnerabilities. For example, there's a long list of Linux vulnerabilities. Most of them are in peripheral packages, but this doesn't usually matter; nobody runs just the Linux kernel.

The fact that few vulnerabilities exist in the UNIX or Linux kernel is far more important than you may willing to acknowledge. In the UNIX or Linux space, a peripheral package, as you call it, has only as much privilege as the kernel is willing to grant. You cannot choose to overlook this aspect of UNIX/Linux design in an effort to downplay the security qualities of these operating systems. It is the kernel, after all, that ultimately grants or denies access to system resources, a concept that equally applies to Windows. A system is only as secure as the kernel itself.

The few security problems that are discovered now and then in the UNIX or Linux kernel pale into insignificance when one contemplates the seemingly endless gaping holes that have been discovered in the various Windows operating systems. The sad fact is that almost all of the documented vulnerabilities in Windows are in the kernel, making that operating system highly vulnerable to intrusion. Tell me, Mr. Seltzer, why is it there is virtually no market for virus protection software in the Linux, UNIX and MacIntosh space? If Windows is so good, as you seem to be saying, why is there such a HUGE market for Windows virus protection? Could that be because the Windows environment is so weak vendors have found a gold mine in security products to peddle to PC users? Is the current crop of Windows anti-virus packages the contemporary analog of all the MS-DOS utilities that came to market 20 years ago to deal with the design flaws in that operating system? Do you recall how Peter Norton became so well known? Does the name George Santayana ring any bells for you?

For the most part, ordinary people don't buy "alternative" operating systems like Linux because these platforms are ill-suited to the tasks they need to do.

Says who? Bill Gates? The majority of tasks that the average PC user does on his system can be accomplished without Windows. What you are really saying is, "Gee. You shouldn't get a Linux or UNIX system, because you won't be able to run Office XP." The implication, of course, is that one cannot function without Microsoft Office whatever. Well, here in my business, Mr. Seltzer, we function very well without MS Office. In fact, company policy prohibits the use of MS Office for security reasons. We won't even accept Office documents as attachments to E-mail -- we're that concerned about malware sneaking in and causing trouble.

On my PC (running Windows 98), I use WordPerfect for word processing, Netscape for web browsing and E-mail, Quattro Pro for spreadsheets, Corel Presentations for what you might use PowerPoint, etc. Oh, did I mention that all of those applications have analogs in the UNIX space? Incidentally, for financial and database work, I use UNIX exclusively, not because I have a dislike for Microsoft, but because I don't TRUST Microsoft. After all, my finances, customer data, accounts receivable, etc., are my company. If I lose that data due to system failure or malware attack, I, in effect, lose my company. Ergo I cannot afford to entrust Microsoft with any of that stuff.

Apple is able to keep a non-trivial market share with a completely proprietary platform, and think of how much more they would sell if they gave up on their own hardware and sold the Mac OS for the standard PC platform.

That's a pretty naive comment, even by today's journalistic "standards." The hardware in the current Macintosh package is light-years ahead of the best the PC world has to offer. For that matter, the hardware in the Macs of 10 years ago was way ahead of the PC. If anything, we should be porting Windows to the Mac, although I can't imagine any Mac user who'd willingly trade in OS-X for Microsoft bloatware.

The developers making UNIX and Linux should get their own products up to these standards before talking seriously about getting large numbers of users to run them.

Up to whose standards? You think Windows is a "standard?" If so, then you may be interested in purchasing some ocean-front property in Saskatchewan. If anyone needs to get "up to...standards," especially in the security and stability areas, it is Microsoft. For UNIX or Linux to adopt Windows standards, it would mean accepting a reduction in security, stability, configurability and performance. Such a premise would be totally unacceptable to those who actually know something about computers.

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