A (now open) letter to Nick Francesco

I read a Q&A article by Nick Francesco called “Sorry, but you must call Microsoft to fix link glitch under IE” and I wrote up some comments, but it bounced because he runs a non-free mailing list (how un-bloglike! ;)  Anyway, here’s the letter I wrote to him:

The second half of your article deals with someone running Windows 98 SE; as Microsoft no longer supports it its something of a losing battle to try to keep it running safely while connected to the internet (hence the ‘tango’; all current versions of Windows are vulnerable like this to one extent or other).

Just as you suggested to the first person in your column that you could switch from IE to Firefox, I would suggest to the second person that they could also “do an end-run around the entire problem” by switching from Windows to Linux.  Now, Linux isn’t for everyone, but its been improving by leaps and bounds and is likely good enough for most.  I use Ubuntu Linux and just love it :)  Another good distribution for newbies would be PCLinuxOS.

Many distros (including the two I just listed) are free, they receive regular security updates, usually can run on fairly old hardware (I’ve been testing Ubuntu on my wife’s old PII-366 laptop and it seems to be as responsive as Windows 98) and can usually be tested as a “Live CD” (the entire OS running off the CD without touching the HD; its excellent for testing your hardware with Linux :)

The major drawback to Linux would be that most programs people are used to are Windows-based.  This is not to say that there aren’t programs that do the same *task* in Linux (in Ubuntu there are literally thousands of free programs available with only a couple clicks) its just that they’re not usually the same ones as in Windows.  Fortunately there are two factors that are helping to change this – the less important of the two is Wine which is designed to be a replacement for Microsoft code to allow Windows programs to run in Linux.  It is still far from perfect though.  The more important of the two is the development of cross-platform open source programs; Firefox, Thunderbird OpenOffice.org, etc. which run natively in Windows or Linux (I started my migration from Windows by first switching to Firefox in Windows; when I tried Linux the experience was identical… and because extensions (with the rare exception, e.g. IE Tab) are written for Firefox rather than an OS, they worked too! :)

I think that except for gamers or people who have Windows apps they must use but which don’t work under Wine, Linux is a pretty good replacement for Windows (those exceptions could dual boot though ;)

Bonus Links:

Anti-Virus software is not needed for Linux (and here’s an example of AV programs being “at worst, downright harmful”. Ouch!)
the very notion of anti-virus software for Linux is about as necessary as wearing a life jacket around the house to prevent drowning.
To mess up a Linux box, you need to work at it; to mess up your Windows box, you just need to work on it.

Why Linux doesn’t need defragmenting

Security Report: Windows vs Linux

The short life and hard times of a Linux virus

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