The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

Search the Blog of helios and all comments


Friday, August 14, 2009

Windows Users - The Charlie Browns of Computing

There is a pleasant surprise here shortly so stay with me for a bit. Cool surprises await....or not. Depending on your SEF . (Surprise Expectation factor)

What I have to say isn't necessarily directed at Linux know what I am about to say chapter and verse...most will anyway.
But everyone personally knows a Windows User...lots of them in most cases. Many of you have went as far as to refuse free support for have I. I too have tired of fixing the same problems over and over. So, when my home-care nurse bemoaned the fact that her Windows laptop was not responding, I took a look at it. Like I had a choice?

Oh, and just guess what I found?

Two keyloggers, 28 separate viruses/malware and two suspected java exploits. Norton Antivirus Premium caught only one of the malware exploits but claimed it could not delete or cleqn it. sheesh. Because "Nurse Cratchet" (her descriptor, not mine) pretty much dictates my life for the next week, I fixed her computer and showed her the actual problems and causes, and in doing so, we discussed much; and she came to some surprising conclusions. As a result I installed Mint Linux as a dual boot and after getting IE4Lin working, she was able to use Linux to log into her server at the hospital. Here is the joint article Megan (her real name) and I put together. She introduced factors I may had missed so I would like to give her partial credit for writing this. Pass it along to your favorite albeit belabored Windows user. - h


Are you excited about the new Windows 7? Microsoft has promised you a "New and exciting environment". Secure past any other Windows effort and even 10 bucks cheaper than Vista.

Wow...ten whole bucks off of a multi-hundred dollar piece of software. How Generous.

What a deal you are getting. So you are looking forward to it I am guessing...and the promises this new system offers you.

Just like they promised in Vista.

Just like they promised in XP.

Just like they promised in ME.

Just like they promised in Win98.

Are we beginning to see a pattern emerge here? Every time Microsoft promises you a" new and secure environment for your computer", it ends up being the same old stuff with a fresh coat of paint and security features that take a 15 year old hacker about 12 minutes to circumvent.

If he's taking his time and is easily distracted.

And you know the morbidly funny part of this? You actually paid for this misery. And you continue to pay for it every time you take it to your favorite tech shop to "get it fixed".

"No really Charlie Brown...I won't move the football this time. Kick the football Charlie Brown."

Sadly, the majority of you will end up flat on your back again, blaming the computer, blaming the software...

Blaming everything but the real problem.

The Windows Operating System controlling the computer.

You don't want to explore the alternatives. You would rather listen to the false misconceptions about other operating systems and find comfort in that ignorance. You would rather be miserable and go through the rituals of fixing your computer over and over than using it. I don't think there is much I can do for you....aside from again charging you 75 bucks an hour to fix it.

See you in six months.

And let me dispel a common misconception. You paid for Windows on that new is written into the cost of the computer and the prices are set per unit by Microsoft. The majority won't even flinch. 2-300 additional dollars they didn't have to spend on a system that will ultimately fail them.

But I said the majority of you.

There are some that are ready to seek alternatives...and many of you don't know you have one.

I am the founder of The HeliOS Project. We obtain old computers, refurbish them to current technology standards and then give them away to disadvantaged Central Texas kids.

Every one of those computers have one thing in common...they don't run Microsoft Windows.

They run Linux.

An operating system born from the free spirit of tens of thousands of programmers and contributors all around the globe. Global Enterprises such as RedHat, Suse and Canonical also pay their developers to give us free software. Linux is created by the will of a global community. Many of them are unpaid, doing this work so you CAN have choice in how you operate your computer.

But it's not just John and Jane Computer User that can benefit from Linux.

Having retired from the US Army, I still have contacts within various units and groups therein. When I got wind that the Army had switched their battle gear computers and protective devices over to Linux, I phoned around until I found someone that remembered me....ahem...remembered me too well. After a bit of lies and other story-telling, I asked him what he could tell me about the Linux switch to their equipment and computers. His answer was short and without ambiguity.

"When a Microsoft System crashes at home or work, it's a pain in the ass. When a Microsoft System Crashes here, my men and women die."

That is serious food for thought. Oh, and the myth that Linux is too hard for the everyday user?

Before you make any premature judgments, be aware that we consistently have 10 & 12 year old kids picking this system up and using it in as little as 30 minutes. Linux is easy, and millions have used it in place of Microsoft Windows and never used Windows again. Entire nations have switched to the millions. And again...sure there is a bit of a learning curve...

As there will be with Windows 7.

As there was with Vista.

As there was with XP.

As there was with ME.

As there was with Win98.

This time, why not put your learning efforts into something productive.

Like a system you won't have to fight viruses...or even fear them for that matter. A computer that doesn't have to go into the shop every six months. That means you don't have to run all that antivirus software that messes up your computer. ( more "$$$ubscriptions" to run out).

And can get it for free. There are exceptions to all the rules. like "If it sounds too good to be true, it is." Well, let me introduce you to that exception.


There really is no reason for you to do battle with your computer. I am going to link you to a webpage that explains the "whole Linux thing". From there, it's up to you. And if you should happen to find sanctuary in this great way to compute...

Pass the word on to Charlie Brown.

There is one particular nurse that has through, calm and logical demonstration, switched her laptop to Mint Linux, albeit dual boot. (simple training wheels). She actually squealed in delight when her Youtube video's played and delivered what it promised to deliver.

Even her favorite "Windows Certified repair shop could not make that happen in her Windows partition. Just a few minutes of measured, logical discussion and demonstration.

And you know...? Sometimes that's all it takes. Simply some calm and logical discussion.

All-Righty Then

-n- Nurse (RN) Megan. Thanks for keeping me down when I needed it. Of course, your placement of my IV had a lot to do with it. Smart woman that Megan...

Thank you for your concern, professionalism and compassion.


Felix Pleșoianu said...


I have the only Linux workstation in a 20-people company. You know...

The one that never crashes.

The one that never slows down to a crawl.

The one with the best Internet performance.

The only one that can (easily) perform certain "delicate" tasks.

And it's gorgeous-looking to boot.

I'm the only man in the company who is happy with his computer. The only one who's never had productivity issues because of faulty software. My coworkers have seen it countless times. They've tried it themselves as Live CDs occasionally. You'd think at least one of them would have considered switching.

No way.

Not even the one who uses Linux at home (besides me, of course).

And these are the smart, technical guys.

You draw the conclusions.

P.S. Yes, we administer our own workstations. It would be strictly an individual decision.

comdotlinux said...

Wow! that's exactly what I am doing,(This Mint 7 is Über Cool). Many a times i just use Mint for win to not make the Future-Convert (Hopefully) not go through the partitoning just Yet. And it works wonders!!! Oh, & well wishes for your health, take care man(Seriously).

Unknown said...

@ Fexix

. The majority won't even flinch. 2-300 additional dollars they didn't have to spend on a system that will ultimately fail them.

But I said the majority of you.

There are some that are ready to seek alternatives...and many of you don't know you have one.

Such as frustrated nurses...

I feel your pain man...oh, and you can trust me on that.


Unknown said...


Thank you...that means more to me than you know.

I am certainly on the mend...public sitings shall ensue shortly...but no mall openings, I Hate mall openings.



Nerd Progre said...

"Linux is to computing what freedom is to mankind...and then there's Microsoft"

You need to update that line to read

"Linux is to computing what freedom is to mankind...and then there's Microsoft and APPLE..."


Anonymous said...

I love blogs like this. Its just a shame that Windows faithful are so blinded and thick headed that they just do not, and never will get it. It is a 100% Guaranteed fact, that you could make a list of the advantages that Linux has over Windows and it could be 10,000 long, yet the Windows brainwashed would still claim that Windows was superior. It makes no sense at all, but thats they way they are.

Personally, I'll enjoy running a free, more stable, better looking, more powerful system. While the Windows users lose money ..

Anonymous said...

Eventually Linux will have viruses & all of the above when it becomes more popular. I am an ubuntu & windows user. Which do I like the most... it depends on what task I am doing. But I mainly use ubuntu for internet purposes. But like i said & many have said, the more ubuntu becomes popular it WILL have viruses.

Anonymous said...

Awesome article! Thank you for spreading the truth!

Sam Weston said...

I'm being a bit devils advocate-ish in this comment but please don't hate me.

I've been a full time desktop linux user since 2006, about the same time I tried the vista beta and ran rather quickly in the other direction. Before that I was an XP user with some linux tinkering thrown in.

Anyway, when I came home for the summer and left my computer at my university flat I put together a computer to use for a few weeks. I considered putting linux on it but decided to try out Windows 7 (RC).

I wasn't expecting much after vista but have been pleasantly surprised. It's faster, better designed and less annoying than vista by a mile. I'm using it on a 2.8ghz p4 with 1gb ram and it flys. It is undoubtedly my favourite version of windows.

That said, it is still windows. It will still get viruses and malware, and it'll still make a large dent in your bank account. I am using almost entirely open source software on it so I'm not paying for office but you'll still have to pay rather a lot for the final version.

I'm not really sure what I'm going to use on my main pc back at university anymore. I can get windows for free from my university. However I think I'll probably stay with linux, most likely kubuntu or opensuse for now, but I wouldn't be upset to have to use 7 for a while longer.

Unknown said...

I worked as a tech support agent for a computer company, listening to all kind of complaints about the OS and the HW. I eventually tried linux and I've being using it for 5 years. I just bought a new laptop with vista on it. I dual boot to ubuntu and every time i bot it to Vista because there's something exceptional i need to use in it, I waste at least 20 minutes updating AV, service packs and patches and rebooting that mess. I only kept it for the next user that will buy my laptop. The one I will charge $50 each time it breaks.

Uncle Ed said...

Ken, I recently spent two weeks face down and almost two months of light duty recovering from repair of a detached retina, but I definitely wouldn't trade you. (I've been telling people if they have a choice between retina repair and playing basketball on a broken ankle, take the broken ankle.) My frustration was that I was feeling good the first several days until the inactivity began to take its toll.

When you start feeling good, but your medical folks tell you to continue lying around, continue lying around. We need you to regain your physical health so your brain can go where it's needed. (I'll tolerate your taking care of what business you can on the phone and computer.) I'm sorry I can't come down and participate, but I'm making financial contributions occasionally.

Take care.


Unknown said...

Let me address a couple of things here.

Eventually Linux will have viruses & all of the above when it becomes more popular. I am an ubuntu & windows user. Which do I like the most... it depends on what task I am doing. But I mainly use ubuntu for internet purposes. But like i said & many have said, the more ubuntu becomes popular it WILL have viruses.

You are wrong. Linux, once it reaches Christian Einfeldt's Digital Tipping Point may see an increase in individual machine/user exploits...but it will never, never suffer the tiniest fraction of the viruses and malware Windows does.

It is impossible and impossible via the structure of the file system. Now, some idiot may execute a bin file, origin unknown and hose his whole system but that damage stops long as the proper user permissions are in place, the only victim of a Linux exploit is going to be the idiot that opens it.

Clear? I'm not saying that...Kernel developers who have forgotten more about Linux than I will ever remember have told me so.

Now...Windows 7.

Shiny, pretty, new....but ah...

If you can accept the EULA that MS presented to you prior to using the system...well...I don't know what to say....except, call the guard when you need to eat, need toilet paper or writing are as much in jail as any inmate.

You might just want to see what you agreed to.

Just a suggestion.


I am here said...

Cool another everyone is stupid but "us" article. So even though windows users are so dumb and cannot maintain their own systems, they still buy it. Linux has a marketing problem, and it is mostly because of the likes of these articles. When your superiority wears off maybe you can interact with users better, until then enjoy your niche market.

Dr. James Nyland said...


Do you have any idea who this guy is or what he does? I think you might want to look into it before you go running your mouth.

Ken Starks has delivered over 800 p4 refurbished computers to Kids in the Austin area. He's done it mostly with his own hands, on his own money and until recently, with very little support.

And yes, the "average" Windows user is not a computer user. They are does he put it, they are task-set mouse clickers. they probably have no more business operating a fully-enabled computer than Stevie Wonder has taking a driving test. At least Linux gives them a chance to operate in a relatively safe environment.

Sounds like you may be projecting a bit but what do I know...I am only a Psychologist. My name is James Nyland and my practice is open.

Stop by when you are in the San Antonio area and we'll talk.

Now go build and give away computers to disadvantaged kids. Helios is 800 or so ahead of you.

By the way...listen to Austin Talk Radio in the next two weeks. The marketing thing starts soon. I am personally seeing to it.

Anonymous said...

I find it amusing that "David" did not address one single point Ken made.

Ken, when they attack you personally instead of your arguments, you may with confidence raise your hands in victory.

Mike A.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a self-centered and rather incorrect load of rubbish. I use and love both (and other) systems, but I'd really hate to think there are too many people (other than Apple lovers) that would believe half of this tripe!

Unknown said...

Google BSOD and Windows restarts then come back and present "the rubbish".

Delusion is easily cured you know...they have medication for that now.

Your IP is in Washington...tell me what part?


FelixTheCat said...

Hey! Cool beans about the radio ad! We going to start whacking away at the voiceover and add some music and contact information pretty soon. Dunno, Ken might put up some examples for voting. :) Audacity will be my friend for a while, although I've used it for some neat projects before.

And this time, I'll export to OGG. Sheesh! You'd think I'd have started animal sacrifices the last time I posted as MP3. :-/

FelixTheCat said...

In addition to Ken's direction, please tell us what OS every single botnet runs on?

Hmmm?? Pray tell??

Michelle Minkin - Seattle said...

I would like to address "David".

Obviously "David", you do not know Ken or anything about what he does. Ken has labored tirelessly for the Linux Community and the children of his city for about 4 years.

About 10 days ago, Ken dropped while delivering a computer up to a third floor apartment. Diagnosis? Extreme Exhaustion Disorder and Severe Dehydration.

Look, I am far from giving anyone advice, but in this case ol' pal, I will break out the prescription book and write you one.

You are talking to one of the, if not the most active and effective Linux Advocates of our time. You don't like his superiority? Probably because he is superior. At least in deed. I have nothing to do with this blog, I am just an old and close friend that recently had to move from Austin. Ken has done work bordering on the superhuman.

Your lack of respect belies your character David.


Gaaark said...

My daughter is going off to college (in Ontario, Canada) and has been told she needs MS Word (even has to take a course on it: I'm hoping it will be banned soon).

So she dutifully had Windows on her laptop (the techs even put amavis on it for her).

Being a 19 year old, she does the usual.... streaming shows, etc. Two days after spending $100 getting windows put on her laptop, she had a virus... she is off today getting windows put back on (i refuse to deal with windows and drivers anymore) with a second partition for linux.

I AM GOING TO PUT UBUNTU on the second partition... she told her cousin today that she is going to do her school work on windows and go on-line with linux.

sigh, but it is a start. She is a smart girl, but still believes you need windows because "the school says i have to use word".



(smile: Good girl!)

Gaaark said...

My son was watching me shave the other day (he is Autistic), and for some reason it reminded me of Windows (maybe because i have some autistic tendencies myself and have a OS fetish)...

Windows reminds me of the little boy watching his father shave.

The little boy thinks "some day, I'll be just like him: I'll be able to do all the things he can do... someday... someday".

It's cute: my son's favourite 'animal' is the Emperor Penguin.

tracyanne said...

I Recently had an interesting argument with a co worker about security. I've been a computer user almost as long as this bloke has been on this planet, I've programmed on more operating Systems, and Windows longer than he's been programming, so you'd think my words would carry some sort of gravitas.

But no. Although I explained in some detail why it is that Windows is insecure, and will never be secure, his only response was to send me links to several blogs (which incidentally I had already read), which contained the startling conclusion that, "You just wait until Linux becomes mainstream, then see how secure it really is".

Interestingly Steve Balmer has already declared Linux mainstream,as, according to a recent (early 2009) presentation to shareholders Linux has about the same market share as MacOSX (about 10 to 15%).

He was never able to explain to me why it is (if the furfie that it's market share that makes for an OS less secure were true) that Windows Servers, which have a much lower market share than Linux and Unix are considered prime targets, and are consistently pwned, while Linux and Unix servers are not.

His best defence was to claim we are only talking about Desktops, and blame the users of Windows computers.

I shall hence forth give him the nickname of Charlie Brown.

kozmcrae said...


"Eventually Linux will have viruses & all of the above when it becomes more popular."

You are trying to tell us that operating systems differ in all aspects except one: Security. Microsoft wants the World to believe that security, unlike compatibility, ease of use, prettiness and everything else is the Great Equalizer among operating systems. That it's like some kind of Digital Ether that permeates all software. But most important Microsoft wants us to believe that the number of viruses is a function of popularity and nothing else.

Here's how it's supposed to work. At Windows current popularity it suffers from about 140,000 viruses so if Linux had the same level of popularity it too would suffer from 140,000 viruses. Now for a dose of reality. The bad guys didn't create those security holes in Windows. Microsoft did. Be it shoddy coding, marketing pressures or disregard for their customers, they put every last one of them in their operating system. All the bad guys did was exploit the security holes that Microsoft built in their systems.

Microsoft is putting as much distance as it can between itself and the security meltdown we are experiencing. If you visit a news site that Microsoft sponsors you will not see or hear the words 'Microsoft' or 'Windows' in any article about malware. This kind of influence has reached so far that I've even seen it on NPR. Yes, that NPR. The bastion of critical reporting.

So let me say it again: Bad guys don't create security holes, they exploit them. The vendor creates the holes. The number of security holes depends on the quality of the coding, the review process and the design. GNU/Linux was designed from the first line of code to be safely connected to the rest of the World. At the heart of every Windows release is a single user system begging to be exploited.

PV said...

I seriously think that someone who has the time and money should put together and air an ad on the radio or on TV (using free software, of course!) saying this (maybe more condensed, though).

Anonymous said...

M$ windows (all versions) is a turd. No matter how much you polish a turd, its still a turd.

Ken, you have my best wishes. Take it easy and let yourself recover fully!


Austin said...

So what is it about Linux that is going to stop its users from getting malware?

Anonymous said...

@ Austin

Why the shortage of malware?

Let's start with the absence of ActiveX and DirectX....wide-open gaping holes to the uninitiated computer user...which my estimates place at about 60 percent. Most computer users know how to go about a certain set of tasks, such as they learn at work or at home by checking email or surfing the net. Helios himself fell prey to the Win2008 virus hoax in firefox and had to manually kill it at the terminal.

Did you hear what I said. He knew what to do...simply by learning Linux slowly, these things just become learned...

Tell you what. Would you like to compare the malware exploits of Windows vs. Linux?

Ah, come'll be fun.

Always is when I win.

Jraz said...

This was quite a post. I wish I had read this a year and a half ago when I sent an older laptop to my Mom in Texas loaded with XP. In reality she hasn't had too many issues but it does take me logging into it from here in AZ. Next time she visits it is going to get a flavor of Linux and I will worry that much less.

I took the liberty to post a comment on my Linux blog Techbits. You are definitely making a difference and I applaud you.

Unknown said...

I guess I'm on the fence here. I've been a windows user since 3.x and recently began exploring Linux with the rise of Ubuntu.

My experiences have been limited to home and small office uses (nothing as large a scale as enterprise stuff) and I can honestly say that I'm happy with my windows experience up till now.

Despite all the talk of 140,000 viruses and bot nets and malware, I can count the number of viruses I've been infected with on one hand. I can count the number of BSODs on the other. In fact, Ubuntu has frozen on me more times in 2 years than XP has in 5 years.

Designing and building my latest gaming PC was a breeze in windows, because any piece of hardware I looked at was compatible with windows. If I were building a Linux system, my choices would be a bit more limited.

Yes, I have to update my anti-virus software and apply software patches to protect against new threats, but new updates are waiting for me on Ubuntu every couple of days as well. Both systems seem to require regular updates to stay on top of things. The reasons for the updates are different, but I'm still updating nonetheless.

And I'm surprised that someone as intelligent as Mr. Helios would be so absolute as to say:

"...but it will never, never suffer the tiniest fraction of the viruses and malware Windows does."

If there is anything history has taught us, it's that statements like that are almost never correct:

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."

--Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

If all the worlds' servers were to switch over to Linux and all the worlds' enterprising cyber-criminals realized that their livelihoods now depended upon discovering exploits in the Linux system, I'm willing to bet that exploits will be discovered. They may not fit our current definitions of "virus" and "malware", but I'm willing to bet those with the skill and the motivation will be capable of raping Linux just as they have raped windows.

Now, let me qualify the above by saying that I'm not advocating windows over Linux. I've nothing against Linux and sincerely hope that its popularity continues to rise. I just felt the need to point out that not all windows machines are virus-infested drones in some bot-net nor are all windows users are computer-illiterate dummies. Some of us are quite happy with secure and stable machines. Im just sayin.

Anonymous said...

@ Clubikimakuri

Let me tell you why helios can say what you quoted with a powerful confidence.

The NT Kernel is a magnificent thing...but it was designed with some major security flaws. And please trust me...I know that for absolute, verified fact.

Windows could have been but the PTB decided that ease of use was first over security.

Microsoft never saw this coming.

Linux STARTED with security in was only until Vista that MS made any real attempt to separate user from administrator and the public howled in outrage over being "inconvenienced".

Sad lot.

You underestimate the number of uneducated and untrained computer users out there...I built their software and I built their system. I think helios' estimate of 60 percent incompetent users may be lowballing it a bit.

It's the file system...say it with's the file system.

Until Microsoft takes security seriously, and I mean from the Kernel is going to be a sieve.

Something Linux, albeit through a few foolish users can never be, maintaining the status quo that is.

And let me clear up a misconception. Less than 4 percent of the updates are security-based...and just over half of those are precautionary...not necessary patches demanded by an existing exploit. The rest are improvements (mostly) to existing hardware on the current machine. You don't find many "patches" in those updates...

Just improved software that anyone but the Linux Community would make you pay through the nose for.

Unless of course, you have no problem with stealing software.

In that case, I don't particularly want to aid that person in any manner, technilogically or not.

John Allen said...

Grammar pedantic I know, but "Many of you have went as far as to refuse free support for have I" should be "Many of you have gone so far as to refuse free support for have I"

John Allen said...

I also work with a bunch of hi-tech users, so far 3 of us have moved to Linux (I've been in Linux since 1997), the others are recent converts (2003, and 2008).

The others steadfastly refuse to move despite constant irritations in Windows.

Fear of being unable to to some totally necessary thing in Linux stops them dead in their tracks. Visio, voting buttons in Outlook, Word documents won't open etc.....

Despite the perfect working of Windows in VirtualBox they still won't move.

Unknown said...

@ Are you people kidding. David is right

You know, you made moderation until the very last sentence. You foul mouthed jerk. LOOK right above the comment box. Do you SEE the 4 lines that state that some of our HeliOS Project kids come here to read? And you have the absolute disregard to use the language you did. I don't care if you left one letter out. Our kids in society are exposed to enough crass and crude/filthy language as it is. Thanks for adding to the cesspoool.

Comment rejected.

If you want to use language around your kids like that, hey it's a free society, but as far as this goes, take me off your rss, and don't you EVER come back here again...and friend, if you live in the state of Texas...anywhere...I will be more than happy to discuss this on a more personal level with you.

Ken Starks

Unknown said...

@ JohnAllen

Word documents won't open etc.....

The word thing....that is a huge deal and I fight with it all the time. Mostly when there are graphics in the document, they just do not present themselves. Looks like someone stood back from several feet and just threw it at the document and it's a crapshoot where it appears and IF it appears on each and every evocation.

Serious, serious stumbling point for conversions...And who keeps moving the freaking goal post?

DocX anyone?

Crow said...

Reading Felix comment I remembered my daily life, 3 years using PCLinuxOS at work and I'm the only one who hasn't said "Sorry boss a worm ate my work", I have a beautiful desktop but just a few have switched in their own computers but not at work.

Unknown said...

clubikimakuri... What can I say about the assertion that once Linux is the most common server you will see more viruses:

1. Linux 287093 28.5%
2. Windows 95/98/NT 245184 24.4%

And that is from 1999.

This is from 2009, and is more the "server" software, but "most" apache installs are on Linux systems:

The problem is, its hard to find clear data on which OS is actually *used* on servers. The only one I found in a quick google was the 1999 one, and.. I can't imagine the trend has gone in Microsoft's favor in 10 years somehow. lol

Gavin said...

"Eventually Linux will have viruses & all of the above when it becomes more popular."

- Anonymous (#2)

There are two parts to this statement that are both false, and can be proven to be so with historical reference.

The first part that must be addressed is actually the last part of the statement: when it becomes more popular. Linux has been around since 1991, when Linus Torvalds started a learning project to create a new OS from scratch that behaved exactly like UNIX (which itself dates back to 1969 (as Unics) at AT&T Bell Labs following the split from the 1964 Multics project). But UNIX was already a multi-versioned OS by the time MS-DOS 1.0 was released in 1981; the original UNIX was released to computer operators in the 1970s and had already split into System III (precursor to the System V family), BSD, and Xenix by 1981. It was also around this time that Richard Stallman began the idea for the GNU project, which throughout the 1980s and 1990s provided a majority of the "raw material" required to turn the Linux kernel into a full OS. (Ironically enough, Unics was based on the philosophy of moving away from the monolithic kernel of Multics, while the Linux project focused on moving towards a monolithic kernel with modularized shells. The intervening decades may have had something to do with it.)

1982 was the release of the arguably first computer virus:

Notice the platform? Apple II computers. So how does it all fit together?

Gavin said...

In 1982, UNIX had been commercially split, Microsoft was working on MS-DOS 2.0, Richard Stallman was about to make history, and many Apple II computers were infected with a computer virus. Conspicuously missing from this list is any mention of Microsoft Windows or Linux, so the concept of a computer virus pre-dates both. Popularity as this point was inapplicable.

Microsoft Windows prior to Windows 95 was simply a windowing system on top of MS-DOS and was released in 1985 (Windows 1.0). Windows 3.0 was 1990, 3.1 in 1992, Windows for Workgroups in 1992, and MS-DOS 6.0 in 1993. So when Linux was in its infancy, albeit based on established technologies, Microsoft Windows was not yet even an OS. (In my opinion, this makes it difficult to track OS adoption rates since names are hardly indicative of technologies.) By 1995, Microsoft released Windows 95 and Windows NT 3.51, of which only Windows NT was a "true" Windows OS. (The Windows 9x family is difficult to define since it was actually a series of 32-bit extensions to a windowing system built on top of the MS-DOS kernel. However, the additions of networking capabilities and the infamous Registry system make the issue one of semantics for all but OS architects.) Windows 2000 (2000) and Windows XP (2001) finally put these issues to rest as MS-DOS was finally retired from kernel use (though the functionality continues through the Command Prompt, which is technically considered to be MS-DOS 7.0 with networking capabilities).

On the Linux side of things, the Linux kernel in the early 1990s was just that - a kernel. In order to be useful to end-users, shells and programs had to be acquired elsewhere and added after the fact. Thus the idea of distributions (distro's) and the contributions of the GNU project. Slackware, for instance, was one of the first distribution projects for the Linux kernel and GNU programs and dates back to 1993, well before "Windows" could even be considered an OS by any definition. Technically, Linux as an OS is older than Windows as an OS and thus theoretically has had more time to accumulate security risks.

However, all of this history is largely unimportant to the issue at hand, which is that the popularity of an OS equates to successful computer viruses and other exploits. This is simply not true as empirically demonstrated by the past two CanSecWest Pwn2Own contests. The operating systems themselves (Mac OS X, Vista, and Ubuntu) could not be exploited externally. Not a single one. All of them are rock-solid from the outside. The successful hacks are carried out on supporting software, and even then with user intervention. The browsers, for instance, are always the first to fall, but require one of the judges to type in a specific URL that exploits a specific security vulnerability. From there, popular third-party application security vulnerabilities are hacked, such as Adobe and Java software. But (and you can check the results for yourself) even though Firefox has been successfully hacked alongside Safari and Internet Explorer, and even though Adobe and Java software can also be found on Linux distributions (or installed manually), Linux is the only OS that has remained unhacked in Pwn2Own by security experts so good at hacking that they repeatedly uncover multiple zero-day exploits year after year.

Gavin said...

Arguably, you could very well say that they are not trying as hard to hack Linux as the other operating systems. In my opinion, this is true. (This has not been explicitly stated by any of the participants, but...) But, also in my opinion, it would be much more difficult for them to coordinate a successful attack on Linux because of differences in distributions, even though it is possible to hack Linux and has been done going as far back as 1996 (see Staog and Bliss). Say they find a security vulnerability in Ubuntu 8.10, for instance. What good would that do? Ubuntu 9.04 may not have the same security vulnerability, and for that matter Ubuntu 8.10 could be patched. The patch would also go upstream and downstream and propagate to other distributions if applicable. It could be that Ubuntu 8.10 has that security vulnerability stemming from Debian, which would not affect Fedora, etc. Or it could be a kernel header vulnerability, which is fixed with a header update (and thus a new kernel compile) effectively orphaning that hack and cutting off the spread. Or it could be a KDE security vulnerability, which would be fixed with an update to KDE as well as being ineffective against any version of Linux with a different GUI (or no GUI at all). And all of this speculation is even aside from the other obstacles to hacking Linux platforms in the first place, such as the greater separation of user space privileges and requirements of authentication (as opposed to the permissions model present on Microsoft Vista and Windows 7 through the UAC).

"Cool another everyone is stupid but "us" article. So even though windows users are so dumb and cannot maintain their own systems, they still buy it. Linux has a marketing problem, and it is mostly because of the likes of these articles. When your superiority wears off maybe you can interact with users better, until then enjoy your niche market."

- David

I searched through this blog article and I could not find either of those two words: stupid or dumb. So at least explicitly, this is not what Ken said and is merely a fabrication on your part. Implicitly, the ideas of stupid and dumb may have been interpreted or perceived by you, but if this is the case please give some quotes or explanations that led to your interpretation or perception. Otherwise, how are any of "us" supposed to learn the error of "our" ways?

In any case, Ken has already in the past (many many times) explained why it is he thinks Windows users are doing such a disservice to themselves. The most recent example that sticks in my mind is this blog entry:

My favorite part in relation to "victims" and "idiots", not "stupid" or "dumb", is this:

"There is however, a thin line between being a victim and being an idiot. If you do not know you have a choice and bad things happen to you, then you are a victim.

If you know you have a choice and still insist on personally using a system over and over again that will ultimately lead to the same problems....

I think the descriptor of idiot is fair.

Gavin said...

I am reminded of the definition of insanity whenever I read this. ;) If you use Windows, and if you have problems, and if you know that alternatives exist, you are only one step away from being defined as insane. In my opinion, that one step would be believing that the next version of Windows will magically fix all woes from all previous versions of Windows. (I do not really believe anyone falls into the insanity definition I have outlined here, but I will not entirely rule out the possibility; I am quite familiar with the branch of mathematics known as statistics, you see.) This explanation of Windows users as idiots is as close as Ken ever gets to being mean to anyone, but it seems to me to be more like pity. If people only knew they had a choice, even if they decided to stick with Windows, that would be OK. As long as people are allowed to make an informed decision, as opposed to the world that Microsoft has fostered.

Although, on that last point, I will have to agree with you about Linux having a marketing problem. That is certainly true. Lacking a for-profit model or centralized control leaves Linux at a disadvantage when it comes to spreading the word. And it has been proven that OS companies are OS companies, no matter if Microsoft is part of the title or not. SCO is a great and horrifying example of this, and I highly doubt that the emotional scars caused by AIX and HP-UX over the past few decades will ever heal. So perhaps I am incorrect after all! Perhaps lacking a for-profit model or centralized control is actually a good thing for Linux itself, even if it puts Linux at a marketing disadvantage. That is an acceptable trade-off.

Which means that I shall have to agree with you again, David. I and others will most certainly enjoy "our" niche market. Perhaps you would like to try it, too? Oh, do not be concerned about vendor lock-in! You can still use Windows if you like. No strings attached. (Seriously, no strings. Read the GPL.)

Gavin said...


I typed this in Ubuntu 8.04 32-bit. It is one of many virtual machines on my Windows 7 RC 64-bit installation using VMware Server 2.0.1. This computer is also dual-booting with Vista Ultimate SP2 64-bit, on which I am testing VirtualBox 3.0.4 and its 3D rendering capabilities. I have been a computer gamer for over a dozen years now, most of that on Windows (starting on Windows 95) but also on Linux with wine (starting on Ubuntu 7.10). One of my laptops is running a dual-boot of Windows XP and Ubuntu 8.10 32-bit (which has VMware Server 1.0.4 installed). My other laptop is a MacBook running Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.8, and I was very disappointed that I could not make it to an Apple store on Friday for Snow Leopard's release (although I did get to play with it on Saturday on a new Mac Mini!). I am also in the process of subscribing to Microsoft's TechNet. I build all my own desktops and upgrade all my own laptops (a MacBook keyboard replacement is particularly interesting). And yes, I work in IT. These are my credentials.

And if any of this information is wrong, please let me know. I want to be correct as much as possible because the dissemination of incorrect information is the bane of this "information age". As Peter F Drucker once said, "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."

(Oh, and if anyone wants to have a debate on Direct3D 10 vs OpenGL 3.0, let me know!)