August 24, 2003

Yes, He Would Be Much Happier If He Got a Mac

Kevin Drum loses hours out of his useful life downloading, installing, and repairing the damage from a Microsoft security patch that it turns out he didn't need.

But, he says, he begs readers not to tell him that he should get a Mac: he has "excellent reasons" for his choice of the Microsoft Windows (TM) operating system, and losing hours out of his useful life every once and a while is a very small price to pay for its glories.

CalPundit: Windows Security: An Oxymoron?: Rob Pegoraro has a pretty good column in the Washington Post today about the security holes built into Windows that makes it so vulnerable to worms and viruses. Virus writers don't target Windows just because it has the biggest installed base, he says, but also because Windows is inherently more vulnerable.

I think he underestimates the network effects inherent in Windows' huge installed base, but he still makes some good points about Microsoft's poor design decisions. At the same time, he also chides users for not keeping their systems up to date:

Part of this is users' fault. "Critical updates" are called that for a reason, and it's foolish to ignore them. (The same goes for not installing and updating anti-virus software.)

The chance of a patch wrecking Windows is dwarfed by the odds that an unpatched PC will get hit. And for those saying they don't trust Microsoft to fix their systems, I have one question: If you don't trust this company, why did you give it your money?

Microsoft, however, must share blame, too. Windows XP's pop-up invitations to use Windows Update must compete for attention with all of XP's other, less important nags -- get a Passport account, take a tour of XP, hide unused desktop icons, blah, blah, blah.

In this case, I think he's actually letting Microsoft off the hook too easily. Here's my story:

A couple of weeks ago I heard about the Blaster worm and decided to get the patch. No dice: I couldn't install the patch unless I first installed Service Pack 1. That didn't look too bad, though, so I went ahead and clicked "Install."

Looks can be deceiving. The 3 MB file turned out to be only the loader for another file that weighed in at 30MB. On a dial-up connection, which is what most people have, that would have taken an hour and a half to download.

But hey, I'm one of the fortunate few, so while it was annoying that it was much bigger than I expected, it only took about 10 minutes to download.

Then 10 minutes to do a system check.

Then 10 minutes to install.

Then 10 minutes to clean up.

Then 10 minutes to shut down and reboot a couple of times.

And when it was finally all done, and I had spent an hour on something that I thought would take five minutes, my connection to the internet was hosed and I couldn't go back to the Microsoft site to get the patch I wanted in the first place. By the next morning, when I finally got my internet connection back up, I wanted nothing more to do with this, especially since SP1 mysteriously screwed something up that makes it more difficult than before to switch email accounts in Outlook.

(Actually, what it really did was change a default setting that made it impossible to switch accounts. Microsoft doesn't seem to understand that 90% of its users have no clue how to fix something like this.)

Anyway, after reading up on Blaster I discovered that you're safe as long as you're running a firewall, which I am. It turns out I didn't need the patch in the first place.

So yes: considering the amount of crap that Windows pesters us with every day, yet another "critical" update just isn't likely to sink in. And even if it does, I try to avoid Microsoft patches anyway. Pegoraro might think that "The chance of a patch wrecking Windows is dwarfed by the odds that an unpatched PC will get hit," but my experience is considerably different. These days, unless I have a problem so serious that I just absolutely have to install a patch, my motto is to leave well enough alone and pray that things continue working.

There's not much that Microsoft can do to prevent people from opening email attachments, but there's a lot they could do to make Windows PCs more secure, easier to update, and less tolerant of aberrant behavior. The bottom line, though, is that they just don't seem willing to do it.

POSTSCRIPT: Feel free to do all the Microsoft bashing you want in comments, but please don't turn it into yet another tiresome Windows vs. Mac thread. Most of us Windows users actually have excellent reasons for our choice of operating system, and hearing about the alleged superiority of Macs for the thousandth time won't change that. So please please please: just don't do it. OK?

POSTSCRIPT 2: That goes for Windows vs. Linux too.

Posted by DeLong at August 24, 2003 03:01 PM | TrackBack

Comments

"Microsoft doesn't seem to understand that 90% of its users have no clue how to fix something like this."

They understand. They just don't care.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on August 24, 2003 04:40 PM

Since ol' Cal didn't want this debate on his site, we can export it to yours.

The only good reason for using Windows is that everyone else uses it too. But that's not a reason; that's a cult.

And people think Mac users are religious...

Posted by: craigie on August 24, 2003 05:10 PM

Since ol' Cal didn't want this debate on his site, we can export it to yours.

The only good reason for using Windows is that everyone else uses it too. But that's not a reason; that's a cult.

And people think Mac users are religious...

Posted by: craigie on August 24, 2003 05:11 PM

Since ol' Cal didn't want this debate on his site, we can export it to yours.

The only good reason for using Windows is that everyone else uses it too. But that's not a reason; that's a cult.

And people think Mac users are religious...

Posted by: craigie on August 24, 2003 05:11 PM

sorry...

Posted by: craigie on August 24, 2003 05:21 PM

I run Windows 2000 on two machines at different places, both have a wide bandwidth connection to the Internet. My general philosophy is use as little MS software as possible, and turn off as many features as you can live without. For example I don’t use Outlook for email. I do use MS IE version 6 because it does seem to work better than Netscape. Netscape has problems, and I left it after version 4.7. I do use MS Word, reluctantly because it has become a standard. I use Excel only for mundane arithmetic. In general avoid using Excel for things like statistical calculations. In an article in Computational Statistics and Data, McCullough (from the FCC not Chicago) says:

“Persons desiring to conduct statistical analyses of data are advised not to use Excel.”

You can read the article here:
http://www.elsevier.com/gej-ng/10/15/38/37/25/27/article.pdf

Excel is dumb even about mundane things. For example, Excel thinks 1900 was a leap year-- it wasn’t. A century year is a leap year only if divisible by 400. So 1600 was a leap year, and 2000 was a leap year, but 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not. How’s that? Well adding a day to February every 4 years is putting in a little too much, so you skip the leap year every 400 years to correct the accumulating errors. I think there is even a higher order correction every 1,000 years, but I’m not sure. For a complete treatise on doing calendar calculations see “Calendrical Calculations” [Yes that is the spelling] by Dershowitz and Reingold. They show you how to convert from a Gregorian date to (say) the French Revolutionary Calendar. Their website provides Mathematica programs if one is so inclined to worry about such things. But MS Excel programmers don’t seem to know about such things. In my opinion, Excel is junk. Don’t trust it until you have tested the kind of calculation you are doing.

I think you really need to run the patches. I hooked up my daughter’s new laptop (running 2000) to a cable modem service, and then downloaded the security patches and fixed a number of other things that Dell should have done. In the short time before I ran the patches the, Blaster worm got in. I should have hooked up the router first because it provides a hardware firewall. But it did no damage because I got rid of it right away.

This general philosophy of running minimal MS has worked reasonably well for me. I don’t know about Macs, I left that platform at system 7.3. Presumably it’s a lot more stable these days. But I think a lot of us are stuck with MS for various reasons; it’s like bad weather, you just have to live with it as best you can. There is always Linux, and I might make the switch one day if I have time to spare.

Posted by: A. Zarkov on August 24, 2003 05:30 PM

The more I think about this, the more I think it is actually an economic question, which I suppose is why Prof. Delong keeps bringing it up: why do people pay for this stuff? Interestingly, it seems to me a morph of Delong's political question, "Why are we ruled by these idiots?" It's also a question I remember in a different context--Moshe Safdie essay on housing: why are people willing to put up with awful housing?

Speaking purely from the business perspective, there is no reason at all why Microsoft has to make any of their software more reliable than they already are: they're making money regardless and there is no law which requires them to do better. As if that's not enough, their institutional customers could easily organize and create an alternative to MS-Windows by funding open source or free development projects; such a project would probably cost much less than 1/10 of 1% of what those institutional customers pay for MS products. There has been no move to make the FTC enforce any rules on the quality of MS software, nor the FCC on the network problems MS fosters, nor any attempt to hold MS to a fiduciary responsibility.

...so, why do so many of us put up with this? Why do their institutional customers who, after all, are paying heavily in productivity for MS's problems. Are we perhaps not selfish *enough*?

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on August 24, 2003 05:40 PM

I enjoy intelligent discussion of security issues but Microsoft bashing is just plain boring to me. If you post Anectdotal stories of terrible Windows experiences you are guilty of Microsoft bashing. Anybody can come up with such stories about any system. Much more interesting to me would be a comparision of the different update/patch mechanisms found in Linux, Mac, and Windows systems.

Posted by: David Knight on August 24, 2003 06:05 PM

I always thought that economics tells you to trust people to make sensible choices, so I am continually surprised that when it comes to a few issues, a large proportion of commentators on this site (and even our host on occasion) seem to start with the assumption that Windows users are making bad choices.

There are many reasons for using Windows. Some are of the network variety, some are because certain pieces of software are available only on Windows (games for home use, other applications for business use), some for the combination of cost and usability, and so on. We all know this really. It doesn't mean that all Windows users think Microsoft makes the best software, but on an economics site surely it makes sense to assume that people generally do things for a reason.

The question I ask myself over and over again is "how can we tell why people use Windows?" What proportion use if for what reasons? Without an answer to this empirical question, the rest is just speculation.

Posted by: Tom Slee on August 24, 2003 06:15 PM

>>how can we tell why people use Windows>>

monopoly power

>>I always thought that economics tells you to trust people to make sensible choices>>

Econ 101, maybe. Consider behavioral finance, for example.

Posted by: richard on August 24, 2003 06:52 PM

Tom, the risks of data loss and the likelyhood of time loss in the use of MS software are such that it is a sensible choice only if for people who don't care about their work and their time.

Ummmmm...

By the way, I note that the virus has taken morningstar.com down. A serious effort at attacking the internet, as opposed to random vandalism, would probably cause a depression.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on August 24, 2003 07:00 PM

Zarkov - if you want an alternative to MSIE you might want to try Mozilla www.mozilla.org .

It's based on the same codebase as Netscape, but it's come a long, long way since Netscape 4.7 (or 6 for that matter) and blows the old Netscape and MSIE out of the water these days.

Posted by: rps on August 24, 2003 08:04 PM

Drum's expectation that updating is not too much to expect from users strikes me as odd: has he really NEVER had Windows foul up on him?

There are some (many?) of us who have had to reinstall Windows repeatedly due to OS crashes, system failures, etc., about half of which have actually been caused by "Windows Update" (Windows programmers seem to have real problems localizing their patches to non-English editions). And of course EVERY time things foul up you have to reinstall the OS and then update from scratch. If you're on broadband, maybe this is ok, if you're not --- good luck downloading the hundreds of megabytes of update files.... if you trust them enough to install them after the first or second time they corrupt your machine, that is.

This is a serious problem that will not be fixed until Microsoft finds a better software distribution system. It's why I'm skeptical that Mac is a better alternative, instead of simply a less exploited one. Linux definitely is -- if there is every any problem just download the latest distro or buy it from your local computer store. How many Red Hat users install version 6.2 these days?

Unfortunately, there will ALWAYS be a large number of computers that for perfectly legitimate reasons have fresh installations of Windows and have yet to be or cannot be patched. EXPECTING all of these to be up-to-date when the only installation material is two years old is just unreasonable.

Posted by: trevelyan on August 24, 2003 08:44 PM

Washington Post article on MS-Windows security:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A34978-2003Aug23.html

Via Slashdot (www.slashdot.org).

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on August 24, 2003 09:05 PM

Netscape 7 is far better than old Netscape, and, imo, much better than IE. It has tabs! Tabs! Plus, it actually works, which is nice.

As far as Windows vs. Macs, I can state numerous things I strongly dislike about the Mac OS. Notably: one mouse button. windows can't be minimized. One can't easily transfer between different tasks, as the taskbar at the bottom of Windows 95 and up allows you to do. And so forth. The Mac OS, whatever it's merits, is irritating in numerous ways, and not particularly easy to use.

Posted by: John on August 24, 2003 09:40 PM

I'm probably going to write a post about the foolishness and pointlessness of always responding to posts like Kevin's with a burst of Mac advocacy, but meanwhile I do have to say to "John" above that he's several years out of date on the Mac OS. The Mac I'm typing this on has a two-button mouse and minimizing windows is a routine operation. Hello, 2003. ObSheesh: Sheesh.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden on August 24, 2003 09:52 PM

Appps. That's why I run XP. Apps.

In my particular case, I game.

And if you want to game, you've got no choice but to use Windows unless you want your game selection extremely curtailed.

Otherwise I'd be using a Mac or a Linux machines.

Because I hate Windows.

But I like games.

Posted by: Ian Welsh on August 24, 2003 10:14 PM

Ah hell, Ian stole my thunder.

But he's right: the only reason why you Windows is to play computer games.

Posted by: Walter on August 25, 2003 02:35 AM

"Because I hate Windows.

But I like games."

Ever heard of WINE? It's a Windows emulator that enables you to run quite a few games on a Linux machine. Then there's VMWare, for those items WINE won't run, and in extremis you could always use GRUB or LILO to enable dual-booting from either Linux or Windows - though this requires you to give up NTFS and stick with FAT32.

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on August 25, 2003 03:36 AM

"Econ 101, maybe. Consider behavioral finance, for example."

Well, I'm far from an expert, but my understanding is that behavioural finance also assumes that people make sensible decisions, just not the kind of *independent* sensible decisions that Econ 101 assumes. Following the herd, or whatever, is still sensible at an individual level.

Posted by: Tom Slee on August 25, 2003 06:11 AM

Re sensible decision-making, maybe the place to start is that "ceteris paribus" only works in thought experiments; in the real world all else is never equal. Or almost never.

I've been essentially forced to use Win because that's what's available on affordable consumer machines-- bundled-- and that's what runs the software I use, some of which I've been using since DOS 2 and WordPerfect 2.1.

Institutional users like my university have been baited and switched. MS licenses used to be very cheap in this setting but about three years ago they started nailing us. By that time it was too late; the installed base and familiarity were there, and the retraining costs of another OS would be stupendous.

Posted by: Altoid on August 25, 2003 07:18 AM

OK, are Brad and Kevin is some kind of blog-love-fest? They link to one another and quote extensively from one another several times a week. What's going on here?

Posted by: General Glut on August 25, 2003 07:34 AM

I have to agree with the Apps argument. In my case, it's not games, but rather MS Project and Visio that drive it (at home anyway).

The other reason is skill levels; I have enough experience with MS Office and the Windows UI that there are signficant costs to be incurred in switching.

I did try to set up a Linux partition on my PC once. I got frustrated trying to configure the connection to my ISP and gave up.

Now, if open source stuff had been in its current state when I was in university, I'd probably be a die-hard Linux freak, because back then I was happy to spend hours fiddling with my computer, especially if it would have saved me a few bucks.

Posted by: Kevin Brennan on August 25, 2003 07:49 AM

Um.

They hand out PCs with large orders of pizza these days. Why not have one for your apps and use a mac for the internet?

Posted by: julia on August 25, 2003 08:13 AM

There was an article at one point on SecurityFocus.com which stated that Microsoft Windows is both badly designed and has a largely innocent, unsuspecting userbase, which explains the large number of security holes in it. The second highest was that of Linux. This they attributed to the hacker-mentality of Linux users (they WANT to break their systems). The least number of security holes was in Mac OS 9. They attributed this to the inflexibility of it (no command line, no built-in services other than propietary Apple stuff, etc.). Not directly related, but just food for thought.

Posted by: Hasan Diwan on August 25, 2003 08:22 AM

There was an article at one point on SecurityFocus.com which stated that Microsoft Windows is both badly designed and has a largely innocent, unsuspecting userbase, which explains the large number of security holes in it. The second highest was that of Linux. This they attributed to the hacker-mentality of Linux users (they WANT to break their systems). The least number of security holes was in Mac OS 9. They attributed this to the inflexibility of it (no command line, no built-in services other than propietary Apple stuff, etc.). Not directly related, but just food for thought.

Posted by: Hasan Diwan on August 25, 2003 08:24 AM

Abiola Lapite writes:

"Ever heard of WINE? It's a Windows emulator that enables you to run quite a few games on a Linux machine. Then there's VMWare, for those items WINE won't run, and in extremis you could always use GRUB or LILO to enable dual-booting from either Linux or Windows - though this requires you to give up NTFS and stick with FAT32."

Yes, it seems that Linux really is the perfect choice for someone who dislikes bothering with configuration issues.

Posted by: alkali on August 25, 2003 09:39 AM

I really am more interested in the economic question, personally; I am well aware of the technical issues. But--why do hard-headed businesspeople rely on something so erratic? Pay way too much for it, even?

I think part of the answer is that CEOs and CIOs generally are not big computer users. Even so, I am surprised that more CIOs don't recognize a problem. Or maybe many do; the penetration of Linux and *BSD in business is quite high for technologies that are not marketed.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on August 25, 2003 10:57 AM

"CEOs and CIOs generally are not big computer users"

I can't prove causation, but it is a fact that on PCs, interest in a simple, visual UI only developed at a time when executives were being pushed into using the machines themselves. Up to that point the command-line interface was plenty good enough for secretaries and IT geeks. Let's also not forget the now-ubiquitous "executive summary."

Posted by: Altoid on August 25, 2003 11:12 AM

I've worked with Windows 3.1, 95, and XP. Give the devil his due. XP is a significant improvement.

Posted by: Fred Boness on August 25, 2003 11:34 AM

As a physician, I simply want a computer to do what I ask of it. I do not wish to be too knowledgeable about our computers. Windows has simply never been a problem for us. No crashing, no virus infections [cough cough]. Why should I try anything else? Seriously? I have no special concern for Microsoft, but the stuff is a breeze.

Posted by: Jennifer on August 25, 2003 12:45 PM

I haven't seen a mention of training costs. That surprises me, since the colossal investment in users knowing how to use Windows is possibly the single biggest obstacle to switching desktops. I don't see that going away soon.
Linux's penetration in business has been for use as a server and among some engineers. You can throw anything at geeks.
Anticipating a response, I don't find Mac OS X (which I've become familiar with perforce; this is being written on a Mac) any easier than Windows, and it takes a fair amount of getting used to. Intuitive is AFTER you know it.
Personally, there are several key pieces of software that are either totally unavailable or agony to get installed and running (notably JBuilder). I realize that JBuilder is not exactly a killer app for most of you.
As for running games under emulation, I don't play games but I'm skeptical. Emulation always extracts a performance penalty, and it's not always stable.
One final note. The Mac's firewall has strict rules by default, but by default it's off. I found about it courtesy of our friends at O'Reilly, without whom I'd be even crazier than I am.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg on August 25, 2003 01:23 PM

The only good reason for using Windows is that everyone else uses it too.

Bull. I've used Windows for quite some time. I've used Mac, too. I've used various flavors of Unix and Linux. There are all kinds of reasons one might prefer Windows:

(1) My employer uses it and I need to run Windows-specific software at home to operate smoothly with the work systems.

(2) I have a need to use particular software package (X) in the course of my work (or just because I like it), and it is only available for (or works better under) Windows.

(3) I have limited financial resources and not a lot of technical savvy, and Windows is the cheapest option bundled O/S to get with a PC that (to exclude, say, some off-brand Linux machines) has a reasonable chance to operate seamlessly with any peripherals or accessories.

Now, all of those are indirectly related to "everybody else uses it", but they are all practical, rather than cultic, reasons.

Posted by: cmdicely on August 25, 2003 02:15 PM

They hand out PCs with large orders of pizza these days. Why not have one for your apps and use a mac for the internet?

Because "apps" and "internet" are not, for many people, two entirely separate categories that can be productively walled off from eachother.

And because PCs aren't handed out with large orders of Pizza -- even cheap one's tend to run upward of $500, more for Macs.

Posted by: cmdicely on August 25, 2003 02:19 PM

I used to work in IT. I think that it is not pure snobism or hatred towards de facto monopolies that almost all working there seem to prefer something different from MS. I think it has to do with the fact that Microsoft from the very beginning was better in making up the right contracts and that kind of stuff instead of making good software. (generalization of course; but still).
My strategy towards the use of MS is exactly the same as Brad's: "These days, unless I have a problem so serious that I just absolutely have to install a patch, my motto is to leave well enough alone and pray that things continue working."
I must admit though that I still want to switch to Linux soon but that is not because of Linux' better performance (I do not know that; I only sympathize with open source).
But the question was: "The bottom line, though, is that they just don't seem willing to do it.(make Windows PCs more secure, easier to update, and less tolerant of aberrant behavior)" -how is that possible.
To me it looks obvious: monopoly -or to put it more "fair and balanced": monpolistic aspects. That's why Edward Hugh of Bonoboland immediately thought of Microsoft as a candidate when I asked him to comment on my proposal to simply put a limit to the size of corporations.
(I still can not understand that no one else seems to have launched that idea).

The decisive reason to use MS is that most people do; that is not about religion but about monopoly isn't it?

Posted by: FransGroenendijk on August 25, 2003 04:26 PM

I think it's obvious for Brad as well but as a good teacher he just wants us to come up with the answer!

Posted by: FransGroenendijk on August 25, 2003 04:36 PM

"As a physician, I simply want a computer to do what I ask of it. I do not wish to be too knowledgeable about our computers. Windows has simply never been a problem for us. No crashing, no virus infections [cough cough]. Why should I try anything else? Seriously? I have no special concern for Microsoft, but the stuff is a breeze."

"I haven't seen a mention of training costs. That surprises me, since the colossal investment in users knowing how to use Windows is possibly the single biggest obstacle to switching desktops. I don't see that going away soon."

Agreed. I use a MAC at home, but the reality is that Microsoft has won the war on the business front---and deservingly so! Apple goofed up years ago when it refused to drop its prices. One of their top people quipped that Apple desired something like a 30% return on investment while Bill Gates was more than willing to settle for a mere 15%.

Linux is only of serious value to the super techie nerds. Dollar for dollar, at the current time---Microsoft is still best for the office environoment. The last Window platform that I used was Windows 2000. I found this particular operating system to be fantastic.

Posted by: David Thomson on August 25, 2003 07:37 PM

“I haven't seen a mention of training costs.”

I should also add that techie elitist nerds live in their own little make believe world. They will casually remark that it only takes a few hours (or days) to learn a new software program or operating system. Sigh, they simply fail to comprehend that most people don’t give a fat %$#*& damn about learning anything new concerning computers for its own sake. They merely wish to compose an effective letter to their client or get onto the internet. Anything else bores them to death. Once they have been trained to do something one way---these individuals don’t want to switch to another alternative.

I believe that Peter Drucker once said that a new invention must be at least eight times better than the current way of doing things---if the hoi polloi will eagerly embrace it.

Posted by: David Thomson on August 25, 2003 07:55 PM

Jennifer, thank you. You've answered the question. However, your answer is the computer equivalent of, "I feel fine. Why should I change my diet and exercise?"

The answer to that patient's question, more-or-less, is "your current practices risk an early and painful death" and "being out of shape and overweight isn't much fun." The answer to the computer use question is, "your medical records are insecure and unreliable" and "your computers are wasting your staff's time, and may be putting your patients at risk as well."

This isn't an argument that doctors are very good at winning, especially against human laziness and the amazing amount of effort that is spent to get people to eat an unhealthy diet and to not make any physical. Computer professionals don't seem to do any better with their problem, nor building designers. Part of the answer seems to be that social systems have enormous power and they can be manipulated by advertising.

Saying that people need to critically examine their ideas, regardless of what their social environment says, is hardly new ("know thyself"), but it has never been easy to get people to do so.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on August 25, 2003 10:00 PM

I think that David Thompson is right. Windows 2000, which I use, is good enough. I don't want to upgrade, but that's a seperate matter. I have used macs -- System 7 or 8 or whatever the Independent ran on was at least as unstable as Windows 98, but came with a one-button mouse, and a silly elitist gloss. I'd switch to a modern mac if I would afford it, but I can't, and I don't need to, so why bother. Unix isn't, for the things I do, notably more reliable than Windows 2000. Obviously, that's what I run my web site on. But on the desktop, Microsoft has a much richer software ecology. I don't use IE, Outlook, or even Office (OpenOffice is better than Word 97 for writing my sort of books). But there is a wealth of really invaluable third party programs that rely on MS. Windows may be a monopoly, and Office is close to one. But these monopolies are so big that they can suppurt real markets round the end of them, and this is good for software. I dont believe the Mac market is big enough and the *nix people haven't even realised that there's a problem when you lose the market's ability to signal consumer preferences to producers.

The poit is, I suppose, that the amount of work required to get Windows 2000 running sensibly is not really greater than the amount needed to get Linux running wll, and th erewards are much greater. The real arguments against Microsoft are not unreliability or arrogance. they ahve to do with file formats and EULAs. But you have to ask what is the trade-off for getting away fro this. It is in the nature of the geek mind to suppose there's a right answer to every question. But there isn't. MS may be and usually is the best answer even when it's not right.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on August 26, 2003 01:47 AM

"Yes, it seems that Linux really is the perfect choice for someone who dislikes bothering with configuration issues."

Don't be daft! I was responding to someone who is obviously technically astute, and the point at issue isn't "configuration issues" but security. Perhaps you ought to learn to read before shooting your mouth off.

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on August 26, 2003 04:25 AM

"As for running games under emulation, I don't play games but I'm skeptical. Emulation always extracts a performance penalty, and it's not always stable."

WINE does NOT rely on "emulation" - it is simply a clean-room re-implementation of the Windows API, and as such it ought to run your code very nearly as quickly (if not even faster) than the real thing. There are plenty of people who use it for gaming purposes, believe it or not. Given that it costs nothing but a little disk space for installation, what harm is there in trying it out?

There is also this to consider: in an era of cheap Pentium 4 machines running at 3.06 GHz, even a 50% speed hit will still see virtually all games running with sufficient responsiveness. Finally, as for stability, how stable is Windows 98 or ME, which large numbers of people continue to use? (That was a rhetorical question, by the way)

"I should also add that techie elitist nerds live in their own little make believe world."

David Thompson, what is it with you and the name-calling? Do you have some sort of chip on your shoulder with regards to the technically literate or something? It certainly does nothing to persuade anyone who isn't already jaundiced that you're in the right.

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on August 26, 2003 04:40 AM

I don't know, but I really doubt that modern, 3D, DirectX 8 or 9 games will run under emulation. Does WINE emulate DirectX? How good does it work with 3D drivers? I'm sure it works fine with old 2D games. But what about modern games.

People have briefly mentioned this, but I'll emphasize it: cost matters. To get a Mac machine with equally good hardware as a Windows machine, at least at the high end, costs a thousand dollars more. Before the G5 came out, it wasn't even possible to get equally good hardware.

As for linux: I have red hat 9 installed on my system, using dual boot with XP. Linux is a pain in the ass to get working right. Once everything is configured and set up, it's fine. But to set it up, you need to know how to use the command line. A lot of software packages and even drivers expect you to know how to compile them yourself. And while the kernel doesn't crash, X does, which is about as troublesome as a Windows system crash for your average know-nothing computer user.

And Windows XP really isn't that bad.

Posted by: Mitch on August 26, 2003 08:40 AM

I've used both Mac and Windows for more than 15 years, and there simply is no comparison. Mac OSX is hands-down the best OS on the market today. XP is MUCH better than Windows 95 and 98 because it uses the NT kernal - much more stable than running something on top of MS-DOS, and it probably is good enough for most people. Linux is an EXCELLENT system, particularly for those that want to run a server on inexpensive x86 chips.

However, from a user experience point of view, OSX is the best thing on the market. It, like Linux, is based on a variation of Unix, and so benefits from decades of security understanding. OSX, like XP, has a very nice user interface (BTW, you can use multi-button mice, minimize windows, and use a dock to switch between programs - I guess it goes to show the old Axiom that Windows users always think Macs are 5 years behind where they actually are), with the additional benefit of being much more seemlessly integrated than XP, because it does not have to support Windows 95 and 98 legacy hardware and software.

All that being said, I think Macs do fall into the "elite" user community. Even low-end Macs come loaded with great hardware and software - which makes them more expensive than PCs - not on a price to performance basis, but in raw numbers. Like a BMW, they will never be cost-competitive with a Ford, even if they offer better point-by-point performance. So what? A Ford may be all anyone needs.

As far as Microsoft making bug-ridden software and charging $500 for it - I guess it proves the old economist joke that the law of diminishing returns means that not everything worth doing is worth doing well.

sz

Posted by: SZ - FairAndBalanced on August 26, 2003 09:05 AM

"Dollar for dollar, at the current time---Microsoft is still best for the office environoment."

Until there's a viral bloom; they you lose a few million (and the whole world loses billions). Or until all the office's computers decide they are not properly licensed and shut themselves off until MS is brought in to fix the problem. (Has happenned; is not published because of non-disclosure agreements with MS.)

Hey, a million here, a million there, pretty soon you're talking real money.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on August 26, 2003 11:52 PM

I just got back from a fairly long vacation this morning (yes, it was HOT in Paris a few weeks ago), and sure enough, my Windows machine caught the virus coursing through the net within about 5 seconds. I'm going to waste most of the morning (hopefully not the rest of the day) installing patches and hoping that I can get it clean without re-installing the system.

Fortunately I read my email on a Mac.

Posted by: Peter MacLeod on August 27, 2003 10:16 AM

This morning I realized that the attitude towards software reliability implicit in the wide acceptance of MS-Windows is the same one that is evaluating voting machine software.

Brrrr.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on August 27, 2003 02:31 PM
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