Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The empire strikes back

Sic transit gloria Microsoft, I wrote, tongue only slightly in cheek, thus passes the glory of Microsoft. That fits in quite nicely with Richard’s ‘Can we trust software?’ blog, I thought. Then suddenly, I wasn’t so clever, I wasn’t smiling. I wasn’t typing, wasn’t emailing, wasn’t blogging. In fact I wasn’t doing anything except continually rebooting my machine. I lost count at fifteen times and finally resorted to a rescue disc.

In the same edition of Bruce Schneier’s monthly newsletter that Richard refers to I’d picked up on a piece entitled ‘Safe Personal Computing’. It begins, ‘I am regularly asked what average Internet users can do to ensure their security. My first answer is usually, “Nothing - you're screwed.”

Bruce then explains precisely why we’re screwed, before adding, ‘Browsing: Don't use Microsoft Internet Explorer, period.’ And, ‘I'm stuck using Microsoft Windows and Office, but I use Opera for Web browsing and Eudora for e-mail.’

‘Right’, I thought, ‘I’ll walk the walk with him.’ After all he’s a top guru on this sort of stuff so if it’s good enough for him, it’s got to be good enough for me. (A touch of commodity trust with a little authority and network aftertaste there, I think.)

A couple of hours later I’m browsing OK with Opera, my new default browser, and trying, with no success, to email with Eudora. Then I started writing that sic transit blog and suddenly all bets were off. Immoveable dialog boxes I’d never dreamed existed flashed threatening error messages across the screen terminating me. Word refused to save anything yet opened page after blank page for me. Nothing would work. Even my virus scanner invoked a terminal Winword error message (Winword!). It was as though the operating system had taken offence and was teaching me exactly who was boss. So, after fifteen-odd reboots and rejigs, I rescued the machine, sent Opera and Eudora back where they came from and restored all Bruce’s ‘never use this’ stuff. And total harmony reigns. Even Winword ignores my virus scanner now.

I’ve never trusted software, to answer Richard’s question, ever since I was in charge of a nominal ledger suite way back in the old ICL1902S days and the FD tried to make me punch the cards to make it give him the numbers he wanted. I still don’t. Even less now I’ve seen the empire striking back.