Normally I agree with John Naughton‘s regular columns in Sunday’s Observer Business section. Today, however, I must take exception.
Here’s a quote:
When friends and family tell me their woeful stories of viruses and worms, I have learnt to bite my tongue and make sympathetic, but incoherent noises. This was not how I used to react. Once upon a time I would say, in a smugly superior way, that if people would insist on supping with the devil then they should expect to get scorched; and if they wished to get off this torture-rack then they should move to a different – Apple or Linux – platform.
But I rapidly learnt this was not what these wretches want to hear. They do not want to be told that they should abandon their Microsoft-ridden machines and worship in a different church. So in the end, I stopped telling them about Apple and Linux and began mouthing the soothing bromides favoured by vicars when dealing with terminal cases.
As you know, I’m in the process of switching from a Wintel PC to an Apple Mac, and so far I’m doing pretty well with my Mac taking the crown of primary computer. I’ve personally found it relatively easy but not everyone will do.
Take for example the computer I use at work, running Windows XP SP2. To switch to Mac OS X would require replacing hardware – even at bulk educational prices we’re talking a minimum of £300 for a low-end Mac Mini. We’d also need to buy Office:Mac licenses for all the machines (or use NeoOffice, though MS Office is more likely because it is professionally supported). Then you have the cost of retraining staff to use the new environment – OS X itself, using Mail.app instead of Eudora (the standard university email client), Mac Word 2004 instead of Word 2003 – you get the picture. Not all of the staff are particularly tech-savvy either so it will take them time to adjust, thus reducing throughput for a while.
Switching to Linux would be cheaper – we wouldn’t have to buy new hardware nor pay for the safe disposal of the old hardware, and we could use OpenOffice.org which is of course free. But you still have the retraining and adjusting time and expense.
But while it’s easy to replace software like email clients and word processors with equivalents on other platforms, replacing bespoke software is a lot more difficult. Our student database system is a currently Windows-only client. It’s not exactly bespoke but still highly specialist as it’s only really sold to universities. Moving to another platform would require a replacement for this, plus some way of migrating the data over to the new system – no easy task considering the number of records in it is a 7 digit number. And again, any replacement would require more staff training.
In any case, we don’t actually have a lot of trouble with Windows. Patches are distributed regularly and the university has a series of firewalls preventing outside machines from infecting the network. None of the worms that exploit the MS05-039 flaw have thus far penetrated our systems, and spyware doesn’t seem to be a problem.
Sure, I may be missing the point – that home users have less access to a competent IT team and less reason to stick with Windows. But the article comes across as saying that Windows sucks, don’t use it, full stop – if it sucked as badly as the article proclaims then I seriously doubt it would still be the world’s most popular operating system with a steady share of the market, especially considering Apple’s recent comeback.