Apple and Mac OS X Computers

Tech “journalism” strikes again: of course Apple will recommend antivirus eventually

A self-proclaimed analyst at CNET has predicted that Apple will recommend antivirus.

Apart from the fact that Apple already did recommend antivirus a few months ago (but has since removed that page), isn’t that quite obvious? Some prediction. Unfortunately, the reasoning for that recommendation makes me wonder what Jon Oltsik is analyzing. Here are the reasons he gives for Apple recommending antivirus, and they’re all pretty much baseless:

Macs users are a lucrative target. Mac owners tend to affluent and Net savvy [sic]. To the bad guys, this means identities to steal and broadband connections to exploit.

If Mac users tend to be net-savvy, then why are their machines being compromised? Why don’t they have mechanisms in place to protect themselves from identity theft? If Macs are currently such a great target for malware, why is there so little malware out there for Macs now?

Organized cybercrime is diversifying. Cybercriminals tend to work as a loose confederation with each group specializing in a certain task. There are malware writers, botnet owners, mules, etc. Some entrepreneurial bad guy is bound to see a green field market in Mac cybercrime, recruit Mac hackers, develop expertise, and market these capabilities. If there is an equivalent of a cybercrime venture capital firm, they are probably looking at business plans like this already.

Diversifying ways to compromise machines doesn’t mean you attack multiple platforms. That’s just more work for very little return.

Macs are growing in the enterprise. In many large firms, Macs make up about 5 percent of endpoints. If the bad guys infect these systems, they can troll the network looking for other vulnerabilities and juicy data at will.

How about if the bad guys infected the machines that make up 95% of endpoints? Wouldn’t that give them more “juicy data”?

Macs are fairly easy to hack. In March as part of a contest, security expert Charlie Miller won $5,000 for exploiting a hole in Safari in about 10 seconds. If he can do this in 10 seconds, how many techies can do it in an hour? This is a frightening thought to me.

Okay, now this is totally ridiculous. Charlie Miller didn’t just walk into that competition and find a hole in 10 seconds. He knew about that hole for over a year and then exploited it in 10 seconds (in his own words: “It was an exploit against Safari 4 and it also works on Safari 3. I actually found this bug before last year’s Pwn2Own but, at the time, it was harder to exploit”). There’s a big difference there.

And all operating systems have security holes. That’s why Microsoft, Apple, and even Linux distribution maintainers all issue regular updates and patches.

I don’t understand why people imagine that you either have an unprotected computer or you have antivirus. (Or they think that an operating system that ever has a security hole is necessarily as insecure as another operating system with security holes.) Antivirus and protection are not the same thing. They’re not even similar. Antivirus does not offer you any real security at all. Don’t believe me? Go ask all the Windows users infected with malware what antivirus they’re running. Odds are that almost all of them will have some kind of fancy schmancy “security” software installed… software that did nothing to protect them.

Mac OS X isn’t a model in the best security, but its defaults are certainly better than Windows’ defaults. No operating system is invincible, and that includes Mac OS X. But Mac users will be no more protected with antivirus software than they will be without it. Know what the latest security breaches were for Macs? Trojans. Do you know how useful antivirus is against gullible users installing pirated software? Not at all.

Trojans rely on social engineering, and no operating system “security” can stop that, because the security hole is the user, not the computer. If the user can be tricked into giving away her password or giving a bad program access to system files, then you can have all the proper permission level separation or “security” suites in the world, and they will all be for naught. Have NoScript installed? She’ll whitelist every site. Have an algorithm for guessing malware? It’ll give so many false positives that she’ll learn to ignore its warnings.

Why will Apple eventually recommend antivirus? Plain and simple—because antivirus software is the most successful placebo ever introduced to the mass populace. As Mac marketshare continues to grow, more and more trojans will pop up, and more and more gullible users will keep installing them, and Apple will finally have to admit that Macs are just computers and not magic. But instead of saying “Users are stupid and need education,” they’ll toe the party line and recommend people install useless antivirus software, just as Microsoft does now. At least then they can enter into lucrative business partnerships with antivirus software companies.

Break out the sheepskin condoms, people.

Computers Linux

Do we have a say in who uses Free software?

Recently, Clem (the lead developer on Linux Mint, which is based on Ubuntu) posted a blog entry asking that supporters of the Israeli government actions against Palestine refrain from using and donating to Linux Mint. He has since removed the entry from his blog.

A couple of years ago, there was an uproar in the Ubuntu community over a user-modified version of Ubuntu called Ubuntu Christian Edition, and similar outrage expressed over a couple supposedly racist versions of Ubuntu.

These incidents all bring up the question “If software freedom means anyone can modify the source and redistribute the software, does that really mean anyone?”

I certainly have my strong political opinions, but I don’t think I would ever post a blog saying racist, antifeminist, anti-Christian, conservative, warmongering homophobes are not welcome to use my Psychocats tutorials in order to get Ubuntu up and running.

Maybe it’s the Christian in me, but I feel that I’m meant to love everyone, especially those I disagree with. I believe Clem has good intentions. He is also probably misguided, though, in his actions and may end up alienating people from Linux Mint rather than making for any real change in Israel and Palestine.

I actually look back fondly on arguments I’ve had with other Ubuntu Forums members. As a feminist who subscribes to more progressive race and gender theories, I definitely was not in the majority in most politically-oriented discussions. Nevertheless, I felt a certain camaraderie with these folks because we all use Ubuntu together. Some are more conservative. Some are more liberal. Some like guns. Some abhor guns. Some are men. Some are women. Some are straight. Some are gay. Some are in the US. Some are in Europe. Some are in Asia. We’re of different ages and economic backgrounds. And that’s a good thing, I think.

Economic sanctions do sometimes have their place, but I think that Linux Mint not being used in Israel will hardly stop the violence. You have to be a country or a multibillion-dollar corporation to make that kind of difference with sanctions.

Clem, I’m definitely not pro-Israel (and I’m sad that some people mistake being against Zionism or the Israeli government for being anti-Semitic). I’m an American, and I can definitely understand people being opposed to US governmental actions without being anti-American-citizen. Hell, even a lot of Americans disagree with the US government (that’s one of the freedoms we’re supposed to be proud of as Americans). Still, I wish you would just welcome everyone back to Linux Mint with open arms. I don’t use Mint personally, but I do recommend it to a lot of new users.

Apple and Mac OS X Computers Linux Windows

Software freedom does affect the end user

As a follow-up to an older post of mine (“Open Source for Non-Programmers”), I wanted to post a little bit about arbitrary limitations in software.

Thank God even Apple is now leaving behind DRM in its iTunes Music Store (Amazon has been doing so for quite a while with its MP3 store). While the music pirates were still out there pirating, my well-intentioned and law-abiding Windows- and Mac-using friends were constantly frustrated that this computer wasn’t authorized or this song wouldn’t play on that device. DRM was an artificial restriction on how many computers or devices could play a purchased song, and it wasn’t stopping music piracy. It was hurting the people who were trying to play by the rules.

Now the tech news is reporting that Microsoft (in attempt to phase out Windows XP) will release a crippled version of Windows 7 on netbooks that allows you to run only three applications at a time. So if you’re running Firefox, Thunderbird, and Pidgin already, and then you want to open up OpenOffice to write an essay for class, you have to close Firefox first (or Thunderbird or Pidgin). Will DropBox count as an app? Will ScreenPrint32? Will other tray apps? Who knows? This is a nuisance and nothing else. It is a cheap ploy to take advantage of users’ Windows addictions and coerce them into upgrading to the full version of Windows 7.

Of course, as with what happened in the case of DRM, this limitation will be an annoyance to Microsoft’s loyal customers, and it will do nothing to stop pirates. Some Windows customers will buy a netbook with crippled Windows 7 and get frustrated and just install an old copy of Windows XP on it. Others will pirate the full version of Windows 7 and install that without paying for an upgrade. And still others will get frustrated with Windows altogether and go to Android or Ubuntu Linux. (Relatively few people will actually pay for an upgrade.)

When enough people flock to Linux on netbooks, Microsoft will be forced to pull Windows XP off the shelf yet again to stave off the competition.

Linux distros have their limitations, but they aren’t arbitrarily imposed on you by the Linux developers. The limitations all come from proprietary software and hardware vendors. Know why your Broadcom wireless card won’t work on Linux? Broadcom won’t port a driver to Linux or release the driver specs to Linux developers can incorporate it into the Linux kernel. Know why there’s no Adobe Creative Suite for Linux? Adobe doesn’t think there’s enough demand for it to warrant making a port, so it won’t make one for Linux.

Want to know why you can’t run more than three apps at a time in Windows 7 on netbooks? Microsoft won’t let you unless you pay for an upgrade. That’s right. You can’t blame it on some outside vendor. Microsoft, the maker of Windows 7, is saying “We don’t care about the end user or a good user experience. We want to offer you a crippled product in the hopes you’ll pay for the full product.” This is like a car salesperson offering you a discounted car with no front wheel. To get the fourth wheel you have to pay extra. Some discount.

Software freedom isn’t just about hackers wearing out their eyes staring at screens and typing into terminals. It isn’t just about programming and getting into arguments about which text editor is better than the other. Software freedom affects end users too. Because Linux offers freedom (not just free cost), if a distro ever tried to limit you to running only three apps at a time, another distro would just take that limit right off. Or someone would create a script to break that limitation.

There are short-term freedoms and long-term freedoms. The short-term freedom to run Windows-only programs will lead to the curtailing of long-term freedoms to not be limited by what Microsoft says you can and can’t do with the software you’ve purchased.

Apple and Mac OS X Computers

Tech “journalism” hits new low at PC World

In the recent blog post “New Apple Ads Ignore Price Wars, Focus on Business” at PC World, some oblivious writer (obviously hampered by a deadline) writes:

What’s the value of purchasing a laptop on the cheap only to see it run the maintenance gambit due to a Conficker attack? Despite the recent outbreak of a Trojan horse turning Macs into zombies through a vulnerability in iWork ’09, Apple computers are more reliable machines. [Emphasis added]

Uh, what vulnerability in iWork ’09? Do you know what a trojan is? Do you know trojans rely on social engineering (tricking users) and not software vulnerabilities? Did you know that the iWork trojan was specifically attached to pirated copies of iWork only?

No, you didn’t. You don’t really know a whole lot at all. But it sounds good, so just include it in your blog post.

Oh, tech journalism. I’ll bring a wreath to your grave site. Rest in peace.


Fake Democracy at Facebook

You got that recent notification about the Facebook vote, right? Oh, no? You didn’t? But you got some notification that your friend commented on some other friend’s status? Or that someone added a stupid Facebook application?

Oh, you haven’t heard about the Facebook vote at all? I’m not surprised. Facebook hasn’t really publicized it. I mean, Mark Zuckerberg wrote about it on the Facebook blog… because all Facebook users read that, of course. Yeah.

Do you know what Mark Zuckerberg wrote?

For this vote and any future one, the results will be binding if at least 30 percent of active Facebook users at the time that the vote was announced participate.

Let’s see. So there are 175,000,000 Facebook users, and they need 30% to vote. Do you know how many have voted so far?

Facebook Vote So Far
At the time of this writing, 283,361 Facebook users have voted. That’s 0.16% of Facebook users, and we have until next Thursday to make up another 29.84% (or 52,220,000) users. Um, not going to happen.

The tech news is reporting this as a some kind of Facebook democracy, but how is it democracy if you hide the vote? I found out about it only because I keep up with tech news. I can guarantee you maybe only one or two or my Facebook friends (maybe even zero) know about this vote. Why not just say the vote will be whoever shows up? Can you imagine if government elections were decided based on a certain percentage of the voter population having to vote? No. If you don’t vote, you don’t count. It makes no sense to say that those who do show up don’t count (which is essentially what they’re doing). And, worse yet, you can’t have an election if you don’t let people know about it. Facebook users are not automatically subscribed to Mark Zuckerberg’s blog. Unless they keep up with tech news, they get no notification whatsoever that there’s any kind of vote.

Well, if you’re reading this now and are a Facebook user also, go vote now. At least you can say you tried and somewhat care about your privacy and user rights. Maybe we can even get up to a full 1%. Whoop de do!

Computers Linux

Not that hopeful ARM will save Linux on netbooks

With the recent 96% Microsoft netbook fiasco (i.e., poor excuses for tech journalism, as usual), I see a lot of smug comments from the Linux community about the upcoming ARM-powered Linux netbooks.

The argument goes something like this:

Yeah, Windows may dominate the netbooks now, but Linux will come back. Windows doesn’t run on ARM yet, and the ARM-powered netbooks will be cheap and have long battery life. If they sell netbooks for US$200 with a 15-hour battery life, then who would pick a more expensive Windows option with less battery life?

I would love Linux to succeed on netbooks, but look what has happened already? Let’s review, shall we? First, the One Laptop Per Child project introduced the idea of a very low-cost laptop for children in developing countries. Then the Classmate PC came out as a rival. Both Microsoft and Apple tried to edge their operating systems on to the OLPC laptop. What happened? Well, not only is the Sugar interface on the X0 rubbish, but OLPC even started entertaining putting Windows on its laptops, despite its earlier refusals in objection to the use of proprietary software.

Then there were all these rumors about Asus coming out with a $200 very small laptop. People got all excited. $200? Really? Wow! What happened? The Eee PC. It was a big hit! Was it $200? No. It was $400. And it had a 4 GB SSD drive. Later, they came out with a $300 version with a 2 GB SSD drive. At first people marveled at these small things and even praised the Linux interface (with very large icons) as something anyone could use. Then they realized it was some crippled version of Xandros and promptly started to replace Xandros en masse with Windows or Ubuntu (or some other Linux distribution).

Other vendors started jumping on the bandwagon, because they didn’t want to lose out in this new netbook market, so Acer, MSI, Sylvania, and HP all ended up coming out with their own versions. The prices either got higher or stayed the same (but with better specs).

And then Windows XP started appearing. Unfortunately, if you want people to actually start using Linux, preinstallation is not enough. First of all, that preinstalled version has to be preconfigured, too, and thoroughly tested. Then it has to be properly marketed. It also should be a proper Linux distribution and not a crippled one (no Linpus Lite, no customized Xandros).

Pretty soon, Linux became synonymous with enormous cartoony icons and lack of easy software installation. Windows won. That, and a few FUD stories thrown in about return rates being higher for Linux netbooks (even though that was for only MSI, not Dell or Asus), and Microsoft has basically won the battle.

And my suspicion is that it’ll win the war, too. The real problem is that OEMs are not invested in seeing Linux succeeding. If Linux is a cheap option that will get them some revenue, OEMs will use Linux. But if Windows will get them even more revenue, they’ll use Windows. And a lot of Linux users aren’t helping, either. This whole mentality of “Well, if the Windows option is better, so I’ll just buy that and install Linux myself on it” will just limit future Linux options, as executives at OEMs will just say “We tried to offer a Linux option, but even the Linux users will just buy Windows and install Linux over it themselves. What’s the point?”

Will ARM be $200? We don’t know that. Will ARM have amazing battery life that the Windows netbooks won’t compare to? We also don’t know that. Some of the more recent Windows Eee PCs boast up to 9.5 hours of battery life.

Call me cynical. Call me pessimistic. But I see ARM either falling through the cracks or Android falling through the cracks, or ARM netbooks being marketed badly or overpriced or configured badly. I will be extremely surprised if Ubuntu shows up on an ARM-powered netbook that’s US$189 with a 15-hour battery life, a comfortable keyboard, a large hard drive, a slick look, and no “We recommend Windows for home computing” at the top of the vendor page. The vendors will keep recommending Windows, and Microsoft will keep pushing Windows 7. And it’ll bring out its ARM smears and Android smears. Microsoft will go down fighting or not go down at all. I have to confess, at this point, I’m very tempted to just throw in the towel and get a Windows netbook and install Linux myself on it, even though that’ll just add to Microsoft’s bottom line and its boasts about the demise of the Linux netbook.

You vendors, you’d better come out with some cool Linux netbook soon… and don’t let Apple steal this new market away the way it did with portable audio players and the iPod.

Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

Windows and Linux on netbooks… what stays on?

Right now, there’s a lot of debate among computing enthusiasts about whether Microsoft’s claim of 96% sales on netbooks is true… or meaningful. I tend to believe the percentages, but I don’t think it means what Microsoft seems to imply it means (“We’re better. People prefer us”). I do believe Windows users would rather stick with something familiar than switch to something else, especially if the two are around the same price. I also believe the Linux options on netbooks were badly marketed (and in many cases, badly implemented). It certainly doesn’t help that when you go to HP’s or Dell’s websites and try to order a Linux netbook, you’ll be told HP recommends Windows for everyday computing or Dell recommends Windows Vista Home Premium. Are you really going to tell me sales would have been the same if both the Linux and Windows pages said HP recommends Linux for everyday computing or Dell recommends Ubuntu Linux? Microsoft pays those OEMs money or cuts them deals to have those phrases plastered all over the sites, and with good reason.

Let’s see. I’m a consumer. I can go with Windows, which I’m already familiar with and which Dell recommends, or I can go with… U… bun… tu? which Dell doesn’t appear to recommend? And when I pick the Ubuntu option, Dell says I can “upgrade” to Windows (Windows is clearly better, since it’s an upgrade)? I think I’ll go with Windows. Of course. Why wouldn’t I?

So, yes, I can believe the 96%, but it doesn’t mean consumers were offered a fair choice and decided they liked Windows better and that Linux sucks. It means Microsoft strong-armed its way into the netbook marketplace, just as it always did with other markets. It’s like if we have a race and I bring my fans to the stadium and kick your fans out. Then I jam a cleat into your shin, stick gum on the bottom of your running shoes, and bat your ears just as the gun goes off. Oh, and the officials running the track meet are on my payroll. After I “win” the race, I brag to everybody that you’re slow. It doesn’t mean I’m a faster runner than you. It means I’m a bully and a cheat.

I have to confess I’m even tempted to get a Windows netbook myself, even though I’ve promised myself I won’t buy any more Microsoft products, even if I’m just planning to install Linux right over it. Why? Look at the selection out there! I’ve checked NewEgg, Amazon, just about every vendor I can find, and the Linux selections keep getting slimmer and slimmer. And they also tend to be the older models. If I want to get the best netbook out there right now (in terms of hardware specifications and battery life), it’s about US$349 from Asus and runs Windows XP—it’s one of the newer Eee PCs. If I want to get the best Linux netbook available right now, it’s about US$500 from HP and doesn’t even have a third USB port or VGA out.

The most popular Linux netbook options out run Linpus Linux Lite (crippled Fedora) and a specialized (i.e., crippled) Xandros Linux. The Dell Mini 9 looks okay and gets decent reviews but doesn’t have a hard drive bigger than 16 GB. And the HP Mini Mie also looks great but is really expensive when spec’ed out and still hasn’t fully ironed out its Ubuntu implementation (even though their new interface for Ubuntu looks pretty).

Vendors, are you listening to me? If you can offer the following, I can guarantee you your Linux sales will be gangbusters:

  • Stop recommending Windows on your Linux netbook pages.
  • Offer a Linux netbook under US$400 with 7 or 8 hours of battery life, an actual hard drive with a lot of space, 3 USB ports, a 92%-95%-sized keyboard, and VGA out.
  • Use a Ubuntu variant but make sure the interface is useful and the video playback isn’t choppy

As long as the Linux options are crippled (either on the hardware or software fronts), then, yes, people will keep buying Windows netbooks. Some people may buy the Windows netbooks just to install Linux on them, but if Windows is either the only option, the cheapest option, the option with the best hardware features, or all three of the above, then Windows will continue to outsell Linux on the netbook front.

I’ll close with some excerpts from Amazon reviews:

Asus doesn’t offer the 1000HA with Linux. I don’t know what they’re thinking here. I’m forced to buy yet another Windows license that will never be used

I loaded Ubuntu Linux 8.10 to have a dual-boot system and I must say it runs Linux very well — no problems on the Linux side.

I bought this Windows XP model, just because there is no Linux equivalent of Eee PC 1000HA on sale(Asus, are you listening?).

Installed Easy Peasy linux, based… right out of the box. I did manage to hose windows xp, which is fine, since I’m not interested in running it

Linux was actually faster, and easier to set up (more plug and play, and no questions to answer). It started up each time much faster

I was primarily looking for a netbook with some form of linux installed on it, but I liked the size and battery life of this one so I went ahead and bought it.

I love my Eee PC 701. At some point I want to upgrade it, and I hope at that time there’ll be some decent Linux options out there.

Computers Windows

Conficker worm – silent is still deadly

I find the “news” coverage of Conficker to be absolutely disgraceful. Is this what passes for journalism?

I want you to imagine that there is a parasite that can invade your body and reside in there indefinitely. Once in your body, it could give you a heart attack, it could poison your blood stream, or it could make your liver fail. Once the parasite was discovered to be in the wild, doctors discovered that you could avoid getting the parasite by simply washing your hands before you ate. They also figured out that the parasite was going to change shape on a certain day. As that day approaches, people who haven’t been washing their hands go into a panic. They don’t know if they have the parasite or not. They start running to quack doctors who say they’ll make sure to protect these people against the worm if the potentially infected individuals just buy a prescription subscription for a special drug. After the parasite changes shape, though, no one’s had a heart attack or failed liver yet. So all the parasite-infected people celebrate that the parasite hasn’t done anything.

What?! Did I miss something?

Yes, the scenario I’ve just described in biological terms is exactly what just happened with the Conficker worm that’s infected an estimated 10 million Windows computers.

Microsoft discovered a flaw in its operating system and patched the flaw back in October 2008. The latest iteration of the Conficker worm, which takes advantage of this flaw, began surfacing around November 2008 and kept infecting Windows computers for months. The experts all knew that on April 1, 2009 the infected computers would have the worm checking for updated instructions from its creators.

Then the panic came in. Oh, no! It’s coming! It’ll be the end of the internet as we know it. I’m turning off my computer that day. If I buy this antivirus software will it protect me? Hide the children! Oh. Nothing happened? It has the power to attack and bring down major websites and government systems or steal personal information but nothing appeared to happen today? Oh. Okay. It was a big joke then. Ha ha. Who cares if I’m infected? I’m just going to go on my merry way.

Uh, no. First of all, Windows users should regularly install Windows updates. This was patched even before it was a real threat. And it doesn’t matter if the world didn’t seem to end today. The Conficker worm has the power to do serious damage, and no one knows when it’ll decide to do that damage or what kind of damage it will decide to do. It doesn’t mean you fly into a panic as if it were Orson Welles’ reading of War of the Worlds. But it doesn’t mean you go on your merry, care-free way either.

Educate yourself. Protect yourself. Be sensible. Conficker is dangerous but instead of flying into blind paranoia, just take practical and level-headed steps to protect your computer and your personal information. Silent can still be deadly, and I’m not just talking about flatulence.

Apple and Mac OS X Asus Eee PC Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

Should Linux users hush up about Microsoft?

Someone linked to Good Linux Users Don’t Talk About Microsoft on the Ubuntu Forums. I started to type up a reply, and then it got so long that I figured it was more of a blog entry than a forum post. Besides, who wants to hear about our broken toilet flush, anyway?

Okay, let’s see. So “good Linux” users can’t bash Microsoft, but “bad Linux users” can be bashed as morons? Okay. I don’t really see how that works.

I do agree that if Linux users want others to use Linux (and not all Linux users say they do) they should focus more on what Linux can do than on what Windows can’t do. It’s the same for anything in life, really. You have more respect for a political candidate who says “I’m going to do this, this, and that good things” instead of “My opponent has done this, this, and that bad things.”

But it’s only natural for people to compare two competing alternatives, especially if most of the users of one alternative used to use (or still use) the dominant product. If almost every Toyota owner used to own a Honda, then you bet you’d hear a lot of Honda-bashing from Toyota owners.

I see this a lot with Mac users, too. There are some very vocal anti-Microsoft and anti-Windows Linux users online, but in person all the Linux users I know are pretty level-headed about things (use what works for you, I prefer Linux), and the most vocal anti-Microsoft and anti-Windows sentiment I hear in real (in-person) life is from Mac users who were former Windows users.

It’s the same trick that the bully from elementary school used to use. You put others down to make yourself feel better. Well, if you’re not 100% sure you like your new choice, you may feel tempted to put down your former choice to reassure yourself you made the right new choice. It’s like when people start reminiscing about their exes and then a friend says “Oh, he was such a jerk anyway. You’re so much better without him.” He may, in fact, have been a jerk, but why do you need such assurance that you’re doing better now? It’s because there’s a little part of you that wonders whether you should still be with him. And for every Linux or Mac user who does spend the bulk of her energy putting down Windows, I often wonder if that’s where it’s coming from.

I kind of see both sides of it. On the one hand, there are many deplorable things Microsoft does, and there are many things I don’t like about Windows. It doesn’t make sense to ignore corporate bullying practices, vendor lock-in, or bad default security practices. On the other hand, focusing your energy solely on what “the competition” is doing wrong isn’t a good “sell” for your own “product.” You should spend most of your energy talking about what Linux is good for.

This goes to a larger sociological issue when it comes to operating systems. You see a lot of dumb back-and-forth arguments about “Which is better, Mac or [understood to be Windows] PC?” or “Is Linux ready for the desktop?” Well, obviously no one’s going to come to a unanimous conclusion, because there is none. No one operating system can be everybody’s preference or suit everyone’s needs. And no one operating system needs to.

My wife can love her Mac OS X and that doesn’t bother me. I can love my Ubuntu and not bother others with it. And our friends can use Windows to their heart’s content, and I won’t bother them. As a matter of fact, even though I prefer Ubuntu, I use Windows at work every day, and I divide my home time almost equally between my wife’s Macbook Pro (with Mac OS X) and my own Eee PC (with Ubuntu). So I’m familiar with all three operating systems and can appreciate their respective pros and cons.

If someone says “Do you think Linux is ready for the desktop?” I would probably respond “I don’t think there’s a definite answer to that. It’s better to tell me what your computer habits and budget are, and then I can tell you whether a Mac, a Windows PC, or a Linux PC is best for you.”

The key is really being able to talk intelligently about what works for whom instead of trying to pit operating systems in a battle out of which only one winner can emerge.

Computers Windows

Do you filter the help you give online?

I’m a moderator on the Ubuntu Forums, and we have a policy about log-in-as-root tutorials (especially logging in as root graphically), which is basically that they’re banned. We don’t let people post instructions for logging in as root graphically. You can read here about the justification for that.

It’s a little odd, though. I’m in favor of the policy, but I also know that if someone does a simple Google search, she can find instructions for logging in as root graphically in Ubuntu. So we’re not, with our policy, preventing people from logging in as root. We’re simply not helping them to do it. Does that matter?

I don’t know if it does, but I still refuse to help people do what I think they shouldn’t be doing. I filter my help. I love helping people out. The internet is a wonderful place, because I help tens, hundreds, possibly even thousands of people I don’t even know by just typing a few sentences.

If, however, I get the impression someone is trying to get me to do her homework for her, I say “Do your own homework.” Of course, I could be inadvertently doing someone else’s homework for her—someone who’s clever enough to rephrase the question instead of copying the homework question verbatim into an online forum. I don’t know if I am.

Likewise, if someone says “I forgot the password to my computer. How do I get in?” I don’t know if that person is a kid who’s trying to find out her parent’s password to get around a parental filter. And I don’t have a foolproof method of thwarting malicious password cracking requests, but I generally tell people how to reset the password instead of telling them how to crack the password (even though I know how you can crack passwords). If you reset a password, you have access, but the person who used to have that password knows you have access, since the old password no longer works. If, however, you crack the password, you could stealthily be using that person’s account without her knowing it.

Do you filter out your help? Or do you figure information is so easy to find that if you don’t tell someone how to crack a password, she’ll just do a Google search and find it herself? Does it matter who pulls the trigger or not if the trigger gets pulled?