Viruses on Windows, Macs and Unix

The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.
– Albert Einstein

Einstein may not have said that, but compounding is really powerful. I’ll get to the point in a bit, so just read on…

There’s this story I read about a rich man employing a young lady to count his fortune. She took 6 days to complete the task, and the result was that the man was 42 million dollars rich. The man then asked her how she wanted to be paid.

[For the purposes of the story, 100 pennies equal a dollar.]

The young woman asked to be paid 2 pennies for her 1st day. Then pay her the amount paid the previous day, multiplied by itself, for the next day. So her 2nd day costs 2 * 2 = 4 pennies. Her 3rd day costs 4 * 4 = 16 pennies. And so on till her 6th day.

The rich man thought, “Such a foolish girl!”, and promptly agreed.

So for her 4th day, she had 16 * 16 = 256 pennies. Her 5th day costs 256 * 256 = 65536 pennies. And her 6th day? 65536 * 65536 = 4294967296 pennies.

Wait a minute! 4294967296 pennies is just over 42 million dollars! And so the young woman took all of the rich man’s money. The end.

The point is, small things can add up (or in the clever woman’s case, multiply up). What’s that got to do with computer viruses? What is the primary ability a computer virus needs? To spread to as many computers as possible.

[For the purposes of the following discussion, “computer virus” encompasses all the bad things coded by a human being that could happen on a computer. That should cover viruses, worms, hacks and so on…]

This is why I find people’s reactions to the “susceptibility” of Windows machines towards computer viruses, … confusing. They might say that Macs don’t have this problem, or Unix machines have that security clamped down. There will be rabid fans supporting their favourite operating system.

The thing is, I’m sure there are computer viruses on Macs and Unix. Why is there a lack of mass destruction and mayhem on those platforms? My answer might be deflating for those supporters.

There simply aren’t that many people using those platforms.

As far as I know, Windows is used by most people on a computer. The path of least resistance for a virus writer is to target Windows. And he won! For a while at least… then another outbreak, then fixed and so on.

Each “win” sort of amplifies the “susceptibility” of Windows. Virus writers get a little bolder, a little more creative. People get scared, news stories (in the early days) sort of “glorifies” the damage done, and the difference in platforms got a little wider (even if it’s just people’s perceptions).

Bit by bit, Windows come under fire for things such as the blue screen of death, the ease with which an attacker disrupts, and poor security models. I believe it’s just a scaling factor. Web browsers are now targeted, and that means the operating system doesn’t matter as much anymore.

This is why I find it amusing whenever I encounter what’s known as an Apple fanboy. The praises showered on Apple products for their beauty and elegance. Granted, that’s true. It’s when they also show their disdain for Windows that’s amusing. Why such a strong emotion?

I admit right now. I don’t really have overwhelming love for Windows. Hey I’ve got an iPhone! I just find it useful for me. I like using .NET because it allows me to do what I want quickly and easily (I have a friend who “eewws” at the mention of .NET …).

And I’ve only been seriously wounded by computer viruses a couple of times in my entire life of using computers (probably protected by my positive aura). So I’m offering another reason, and drawing a broad generalisation in the process… Mac and Unix users are generally fairly competent with computers. They are designers, so using image editors is second nature to them. They are system administrators, and let’s face it, if you can do command line stuff, you’re competent.

It’s the not-so-competent users that get hit by computer viruses. Broadly speaking of course, and I don’t know if it’s true, so this is just my conjecture. Where are most of those users? On Windows machines.

So based on small reasons, a twist of fate here and there, and compounding all that, and Windows seem to be riddled with security loopholes, wide open for any attack. But I don’t see it that way.

Guest on podcast about Windows 7

Recently, the Tech65 team invited me to talk about Windows 7 on their podcast. I thank them for letting me join in. It was a fun experience.

I’m saying it right now; I’m not an expert on Windows 7. I follow the developers’ blog. I read Raymond Chen’s blog. That’s about the extent of my knowledge on Windows development (7 or not).

The reason I’m invited to the podcast recording was I saw a Windows 7 demo, presented at a PHP Meetup (thanks Michael for inviting me!) at Microsoft Singapore. And that I follow the Windows 7 developers’ blog. And that I watched a video of a Windows 7 demo at the PDC.

If you haven’t already clicked on that link to the podcast, here it is again:
Tech65 podcast – Windows 7

I was just listening to myself in the podcast and I found that I spoke too softly, compared to the rest of the team. 1 minute in and I couldn’t bear to listen anymore… I was terrible! I was nervous! I need more practice… In the meantime, I’ll stick to writing stuff here…

There were 3 Tech65 members at the podcast. We were recording at Geek Terminal, a cafe geared for uh, geeks. There were power sockets practically everywhere, to make it easy to power up laptops, notebooks, netbooks, Mac books and what-not. I was the only one without any fancy gadgets. Does a mobile phone count?

Anyway, it was a short discussion on Windows 7 (about 10 minutes or so. I didn’t count. Too embarrassed to find out where my part ended. Luckily, show notes are provided). Then the team moved on to other technological and gadget news. There were 2 other pieces of information I wanted to share, but the opportunity didn’t present itself. I even had accompanying funny lines to go along with the tidbits.

The first one is that in Windows 7, you can drag a document to the extreme left and the document automatically resizes to fill the left half of the screen. Then you hold onto another document and move it to the right and that document fills the right half of the screen. It’s to make it easy to do comparison of document content. Plus dragging windows around is fun, because I like to move it, move it!

The second was about quick focusing of windows. Suppose you have 5 windows open on the desktop. There’s one particular window you want to work on, and you want the other 4 windows to be minimised. All you have to do is grab hold of the title bar of that window, and Shake shake, shake shake, shake it! and the other 4 windows shimmy to the taskbar. Want them back? Shake shake, shake shake, shake it! again.

*Cue tumbling ball of dried roots in barren wasteland. Cue squawking crows.*

You know, it’s a good thing I didn’t try to crack jokes at the podcast. I would have failed miserably… If you have anything to say regarding the Windows 7 information I gave (perhaps I was blatantly wrong and I don’t know about it), please send in comments here, or do so at the Tech65 post.