Why would I stop being a straight shooter now? Why would I offer help on how to use a program I know is dangerous?
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
When 'help' is not what you expect

May 25, 2008

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, The Post-Standard

   Earlier this year I posted a blog item entitled "Why I won't help you hurt yourself." With a title like that, the message was sure to be read.
   But, alas, it was only read by the readers who visit my blog. While all of us in the newspaper's blogosphere would no doubt like to think we have thousands of readers examining our every blog entry day after day, the facts don't seem encouraging. Blog items just don't attract many readers.
   So I'm doing something I've never done before. Perhaps it is a sign of the times. I'm creating a newspaper column out of a blog item.
   What I wrote in my blog is easy enough to sum up. A reader asked me for help with Outlook. I refused.
   Hold on! Am I crazy? I've been helping readers through e-mail, over the phone and through the lecture circuit for more years than I want to admit. (OK, I've been doing it for 25 years. And, yes, I started doing it when I was 10 years old.)
   Apart from fudging my age now and then, I've earned a reputation as a straight shooter. I like to tell things as I see them.
   So why, I thought to myself when I read the letter this reader had sent me, why would I stop being a straight shooter now? Why would I offer help on how to use a program I know is dangerous?
   Either I stick by my guns or I don't. So here, borrowed directly from my reply to that reader, is how I decided to deal with the ethical quandary I found myself in. I'm quoting that letter directly here. The rest of this column is from my letter, and it's what you'll find on my blog (at blog.syracuse.com/technofile/2008/02/why_i_wont_help_you_hurt_yours.html).
   I can't help you. I refuse to support Outlook e-mail. Period. End of issue.
   Sounds unfriendly, I know. But you're much too out of touch if you're unaware of the dangers of Windows and the exceptional dangers of Outlook and Outlook Express. (I'm not sure which you were referring to, but they are equally dangerous.)

   Here are my recommendations in order:

   1. Stop using Windows. A quarter of a million viruses are telling you something.

   2. If you can't stop using Windows -- if you don't believe the 25,000 programs, including Microsoft Office, available for Macs, are enough -- then you must stop using Internet Explorer and Outlook or Outlook Express. My very strong advice is to use Firefox instead of IE and Thunderbird instead of Outlook or Outlook Express.

   Forgive me for being so dogmatic on this. But imagine that you went to the doctor after hitting yourself in the head every day for three years and said, "Doc, I don't like the hammer I have been using. Which one do you recommend?" If the doctor recommended a hammer, he would be stripped of his license to practice medicine. I practice safe computing, so you got my honest advice.

   I do have one thing to correct in this piece of advice. In the blog entry, I wrote that there were a quarter of a million viruses for Windows. That was written only a few months ago, in February. The total is now 1.1 million.