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Vista might well be a fine product, but you're excused if you've stopped caring by now.
 technofile
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

B l o g
Is Vista so safe you don't need antivirus software? Sure, but only if you're a kid


Nov. 19, 2006


By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, The Post-Standard

   Jim Allchin is the Microsoft executive responsible for the way Windows is designed. He lives in a world of good guys vs. bad guys.
   In Allchin's world, the good guys are the software engineers at Microsoft. The bad guys are the idiots who write the viruses, worms, Trojan horses, browser hijackers and zombies that sneak into Allchin's operating system.
   The bad guys have been gaining for a long time. An estimated 130,000 to 200,000 Windows viruses are spreading on the Internet. It's an almost unfathomable amount, especially considering the almost total lack of viruses targeting Microsoft's closest competitor, Apple. (Two or three viruses have been devised for Apple's Macintosh operating system, OS X, but all are “proof of concept" programs -- created to see if it can be done.)
   I wouldn't expect Allchin to tell Windows users they should switch to Apple's Macintosh. But I also wouldn't expect to hear him say the newest version of Windows, called Vista, should be run without the protection of anti-virus software.
   But that's what he said last week when he spoke to the press about Vista, Microsoft's newest version of Windows. What's even harder to fathom was the context of Allchin's remarks. He wasn't just talking about any old savvy adult running Vista without antivirus software. He was talking about his own son.
   The kid's seven years old.
   "My son, seven years old, runs Windows Vista," Allchin told reporters in a conference call. "Honestly, he doesn't have an antivirus system on his machine. His machine is locked down with parental controls. He can't download things unless it's to the places that I've said that he could do, and I'm feeling totally confident about that."
   Windows Vista isn't for sale yet. That won't happen until the end of January. What Allchin's little boy is running is a beta, or test, version of Vista. Beta versions are buggier than the final version you and I are able to buy. And that means they might not work the way their software designers expected.
   Would you let a kid barely old enough for first grade run a beta version of an operating system? Probably not. And, if you relented, would you let him run a beta version of an operating system that wasn't protected by any antivirus software? Surely not.
   Two things you need to know:Windows Vista is supposed to be safer and more resistant to viruses than previous versions of Windows. And Microsoft's track record of making its operating systems safe and resistant to viruses is abysmal. "Windows security" is an oxymoron.
   But wouldn't the guy who runs the entire Windows project know this already? I realize he might not read the same security reports I do, but he must have noticed that a hacker from Europe wrote the first virus expressly targeting Vista back in July. That's four months ago. Who can say what other Vista viruses are out there?
   Not Jim Allchin. As it turns out, Allchin suddenly got antivirus religion late last week. He told readers of his blog that his earlier comments were not clear enough.
   "I didn't say that users shouldn't run antivirus software with Windows Vista," Allchin wrote in the blog.
   Which means seven-year-olds can go without antivirus software. But you shouldn't.
   This is nonsense. Vista might well be a fine product, but you're excused if you've stopped caring by now.