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Summary:

I realize that kicking around John C. Dvorak is not exactly a challenge anymore. His half-baked theories regarding a PC world that moved beyond his understanding 15 years ago rarely make very much sense. However, occasionally, he uses his predictive powers on the Mac world, where […]

I realize that kicking around John C. Dvorak is not exactly a challenge anymore. His half-baked theories regarding a PC world that moved beyond his understanding 15 years ago rarely make very much sense. However, occasionally, he uses his predictive powers on the Mac world, where they are even less cogent. Observe his most recent:

The notable thing about spyware is that because it isn’t virulent like a virus and seldom spreads from your machine to another, it manages to stay out of the spotlight. The national media pay little attention to the problem, and many mainstream media tech writers are Mac users, so they don’t get it. Who knows what will happen when the Mac community gets hit? They feel immune, and are for now. But when they get hit, there will be few resources to help them, since the antispyware community is busy with all the PC-related problems.

There’s a sort of bristling, “just wait till you get yours!” quality to this that I can understand. Spyware is frustrating. However, it is also a phenomenon that is unlikely to ever become a serious problem on MacOS (or Linux, or basically any non-Windows OS). There are a few reasons why.

First and probably most important, spyware is primarily enabled by Internet Explorer. The reality is, the vast majority of the spyware that exists streams in through the insecure and barely-supported framework of Microsoft’s prize browser. Internet Explorer enables this through ActiveX; it enables it through Microsoft’s near-abandonment of it (they refuse to release new versions except with OS updates); and it enables it through generally poor coding. Most Mac users, however, don’t use IE, preferring Apple’s native Safari, the excellent OmniWeb, or the free and excellent FireFox.

The second way spyware gets on Windows PCs is through programs’ unnecessarily complicated installers. On MacOS, the installation process for many applications–certainly most that you download from the Web–is simply drag-and-drop. There’s no opportunity to hide or bury things. On Windows, however, the components of any installed program are scattered across any number of system folders and may also install other programs you weren’t even aware of. This, again, is unlikely to change on MacOS.

While MacOS certainly isn’t “immune” to spyware, it isn’t in nearly the same danger either. Primarily, Microsoft brought spyware onto its own users–with a bad browser architecture grafted on to an insecure OS.

  1. Although you are right, the Mac does have two “attack points”: /Library/StartupItems with hidden folders and malicious installers. ’nuff said.

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  2. This reminded me of John Gruber’s “Broken Windows” posting from about six months ago, wherein he brings up some additional points on the spyware situation in Mac OS X: http://daringfireball.net/2004/06/broken_windows

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  5. Maybe I just don’t get it. By that I mean I don’t really know anything about computers, but the new iMac I bought to replace a new Dell which malfunctioned and was returned has been a great disappointment. To wit:
    :
    1. There is no support manual or CD.
    2. It is slower, much slower.
    3. Apple will sell me a word processor for $400.00
    4. There is no superdrive to burn DVD’s
    5. No backup program
    6. It frequently stalls
    7. Frequently get message “We do not support this version of Sarafi Browser.
    8. Attempting to open a document frequently results in “unexpected error…”
    9. It is more expensive.
    10. Softwear frequently is unavailable for it, particularly free softwear.
    11. Support is very slow, even with a paid contract.

    All you apple fans out there: Am I missing something? It appears that Apple has deliberately tried to coerce users rather than enlarge possibilities.

    What’s all the Apple mystique about? I have ordered a refurbished Compaq with everything I want, and for a lot less money.

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