For Whatever Reasons

USA Today technology columnist Kevin Maney complained last week about having been hit hard by a Windows virus on his home computer:

My computer was only 18 months old. I wasn’t totally naïve. My broadband Internet came into a router, which provided something of a firewall — a barrier to keep the riff-raff out. I had one anti-virus program and one anti-spyware program running.

But about six weeks ago, the runaway adware started. No telling why. Someone in my house could’ve clicked on the wrong thing. But trying to knock the ads down was like playing Whac-A-Mole.

I ran software to clean it up. I switched from Microsoft Explorer Web browser to Mozilla’s Firefox, since the bad guys mostly pick on Explorer. I almost got the situation under control.

And then one morning as the PC started to boot, a box popped up saying something about a “remote procedure call.” It said Windows had to restart. So Windows rebooted, came to that same point, showed the same “remote procedure call” box, and again restarted. My PC was doomed to a continuous loop of never turning off but never starting — a computer purgatory. This was the virus at work.

The reaction from his neighbors?

Anger about this stuff is spreading as fast as the viruses. At our end-of-summer block party, I mentioned to a group of neighbors that a virus had crashed our PC. Instantly, every one of them launched into stories about unstoppable blitzes of adware (which throws pop-up ads on your screen, or worse) and spyware (which can find stuff on your PC and send it somewhere) and computers brought down by viruses

This week Maney filed up a follow-up column regarding the deluge of “you should get a Mac” mail he received from readers. He can’t resist banging the “Mac users are a cult” drum, repeatedly, but he gets the most important nugget right, writing (emphasis mine):

The message I get is that people are fed up with the vulnerability of Windows. They are increasingly willing to consider other options. And, for whatever reasons, Apple Computer’s Macintosh and Linux-based computers hardly get infected or invaded at all.

“For whatever reasons” is the key point I tried to make in “Broken Windows” back in June. The reasons why are subject to argument. But you can’t argue about the net effect: Windows users, especially with their home computers, are plagued by insidious malware; everyone else is not.

Microsoft has been talking about improved security in Windows for the last few years. But the situation continues to get worse. New viruses and worms are up 400% this year over last, according to Symantec.

Kevin Maney is not a nerd. Enthusiast, maybe, but not a nerd. What’s interesting about these two columns isn’t technical insight into the nature of the problem; he has none. But the vast majority of Windows users aren’t nerds, either, and Maney seems to have his finger on their pulse.

New Windows updates, new anti-virus software, new ad-blocking software — regular people are starting to realize that the cycle never ends, that they are never going to successfully secure Windows, and that the easiest and best solution to the Windows security problem is not to use Windows at all.

The masses are restless.