The state of Modern computing, PeeCee rage and all that.
You might remember a long distant Maggie editorial, back in in a bygone
issue, which picked up on the new and novel phenonomen of 'PC-Rage'. It
chortled at the increasing incidence of dissatisfaction with the Wintel box.
It then gleefully pointed at a case of one gentleman rendered so irate, that
he pulled a handgun on the errant unit, to "switch it off" in the manner of
the late great Elvis Presley. A touch of sleuthing genius crept in, when it
made the link between that tooled-up-and-not-afraid-to-shoot consumer, and
his neighbourhood being a suburb largely filled with Microsoft employees.
Clearly, trying to use such experimental and hardly proven technology like
Windows, back in 1997 posed a lot of risks, to your sanity, hairline, and
anything else situated immediately behind the computer. That editorial
smugly concluded that the best defence against 'PC-Rage' was to carry on
what you were doing by keeping the faith in your Fuji box. Which was good
advice then, but surely now things have changed a bit for the better?
Things have got worse....
John Leyden, writing for the respected online news-site The Register,
("Biting the hand that feeds IT"!) brings us right up to date with the
current state of happiness, or not, in the current PeeCee users whirl. Or as
up to date as late October can be anyway...
"Computers are damaging our health, thanks to rising stress levels induced
by so-called 'PC pests' like spam, pop up ads and viruses." He claims.
"According to a survey commissioned by security firm Symantec. Only 14 per
cent of those quizzed had the Zen-like calm to say problems with their PCs
never ] irritated them. In order of annoyance these were: slow performance
and system crashes (cited as worst irritant by 23 per cent of those
quizzed); spam, scams and too much email" (20 per cent); pop up
advertisements (15 per cent); viruses (14 per cent) and files getting lost
or deleted (four per cent)." Let's hear it for system crashes! Hold on,
STILL HAPPENING, after all this extra development and getting things right
time by Microsoft?!
"And just as different PC pests annoy people in different ways, so our
reactions vary from mild annoyance to extreme anger. Hitting random keys out
of sheer frustration "in a attempt to make something happen" is also a
popular response to problems. People actually give up on their machines
when problems arise." Never mind John, maybe people should chill out, and
take a long refreshing sup out of the drink placed in their built-in cup-
holder, erm, CD-ROM tray.
So why are people still getting baity after all this time to get things
Sure, there has been a lot of evolution in hardware and software. Much of it
comes at an artificially market-driven frantic pace. This does not allow a
proper interval to get used to it, before the next 'big thing' comes along.
But we are no longer suffering from that shoddy looking and crappy early
Pentium/Windows '95 bodge aesthetic. The latest, and future versions of
Windows (The famous Longhorn) look almost half-decent, for Grud's sake!
You've got awesomely kick-ass 3D graphics cards and rendering engines that
can blast a scene onscreen, before it even occurs to the central gigahertz-
tastic CPU to tell it to do so. There is also this fantastic new toy for
people to play with, less common and confined to hardened comms anoraks back
then called the Internet (for "baud rate", read "Bored rate"!)
Lots of people even have a proper 'fill yer boots' version of the net. This
is a 24 hours a day permanent connection, which can download faster than a
pig being sick, called 'Broadband.
In theory, we are now roaming the virtual streets of a geek utopia. The
average user of average intelligence, and with a large amount of hand
wringing when it comes to matters computing, can now have access to
unlimited information. We have arrived at the online democracy, the
electronic agora, a virtual Woodstock. You can play massive online games
with your fellow nutters that last forever. Everyone's enjoyment should be
enhanced to the power of ten!
But somehow, it didn't turn out like that....
There seems to be less of a geek utopia, and a hell of a lot of a lamers
playground out there. The seedy and hucksterish side of the net has shown
itself more recently, with the almost geometric growth of those lovely
'herbal viagra' spam emails. Web pages proliferate with advertising pop-ups,
which invite you to go anywhere apart from the place of your choice!
I can confidently say, that this would have happened even without Microsoft
becoming the dominant platform. At the same time though, the Microsoft
solution seems to make these problems worse than they should be. Vunerable
features of IE Explorer are open to abuse from pop-ups. Current versions of
Outlook seem to have limited defences against the bad sort of emails.
Microsoft have been slow to sort these out, prompting interest in
alternative solutions. They seem to be keen to sell 'security' as part of
their future solutions, but it remains to be seen if they can get it right
The growth of these problems will be associated with the Microsoft
environment. As a virtual monopoly, they are most people's sole contact with
computing, and the bad experiences with spam and pop-ups, will taint
Microsoft's reputation, even when they are not directly responsible for it.
The issue of viruses (or virii?) is an ancient one. Anybody with any
pedigree in geekdom, the demo scene or whatever, will always remember those
loveable Amiga people and their pioneering work on bootsector viruses! But
the huge static target that is Windows, and Microsoft products in general,
seem to give new life to the concept. Some major security breaches are being
shown up with the latest worm or trojan horse infections.
The frightening ubiquity of such an infection is surely *the* main argument
against any company having a monopoly of the MucusSoft type! A similar over-
dependence on a single product type was witnessed during the Irish Potato
Famine of the 1840's. Back then, a real virus, the potato blight, did its
worst, millions died, or got the hell out. (No food back-up present, enable
starvation mode Y/N?)
I also think that the current round of infestations are made worse by a
violent hatred of Microsoft playing its part. The autumn special 'Swen'
virus seems to be an attempt to damage their credibility directly with a
series of fake web pages and software patches claiming to come from
Microsoft themselves. Microsot provides a focus for cyber-malcontents to
take some heavy shots at. The major problem is, that almost everyone has
become too dependent on their software infrastructure (sigh!)
This ongoing struggle will have an adverse impact on the previously touted
Microsoft broadband business model, of people 'renting' applications off
central servers. If they can't guarantee their own security, what chance
does this stand?
This will get ever more "interesting" as in wishing "interesting times" on a
worst enemy. To take a global perspective, Microsoft are now seen as part of
the 'Ugly America' of George Bush, a greedy corporation, a deserving target
ripe for attack. Cyber terrorism will become more overt and damaging in the
near future. It has been seriously suggested that Al-Quaeda operatives would
be attending Microsoft product courses to plan their next attack! The very
worst attacks will use detailed knowledge of MS products and their
blindspots. I think it is a good time, nay essential, to get into something
else real soon!
There is one thing possibly worse than even than a cunningly designed trojan
horse. This is adware, or more correctly, parasite-ware! Do the people that
code these get a special shit-eating corner in hell, with the lawyers and
estate agents! You can check out the separate feature on adware, which
describes a 'bleeding edge' PC turned into a 486 by multiple infections!
These little beauties seem to be very system specific, rubbing their tiny
paws with glee at the scent of a Windows-based system.
It gets better still..
Then there is the evil clown cousin of adware. This is 'Spyware'. The
authors of these rampant turds of code, will be placed in the extra-special
pigs diahorrea drinking enclosure, in the midst of the shit-eating corner of
hell when they die, which will hopefully be very soon now!
The first spyware stories arose around mysterious undisclosed properties of
Microsoft software reporting back on the contents of your Hard Drive. Not
just Windows stuff, but everything else on there too! ("What have you
downloaded that you shouldn't have today?!")
For what strange purposes Microsop are spying on its customers, will take a
higher-paid lawyer than myself to decide! But this sort of 'non-consensual'
approach to its business is not surprising. It alienates even the previously
content customer. Most reasonable people feel queasy at any major intrusion
of privacy, with the implication of that information then being used against
The seedier parts of private enterprise then took this as its model to
follow. From there, the parasites and snoops came about, that plague so many
unaware newbie PeeCee owners to distraction. Also to force the rest into a
constant low-level guerilla war of firewalls and uninstallers, versus the
sneaky buggers trying to subvert your system configuration for their own
ends! Yet again, security holes in MS products are often exploited to do
this. Thank you Bill Gates, one more time!
Who remembers a time when you just used to switch on your computer, and get
on with the task in hand, without constantly worrying about malign outside
forces trying to crowbar their way in? Well on the Atari, we still can!
So let's get down to it. How much peril is your Atari in, from these
Firstly, spam email. I'd have to say there is a problem to face. A good
choice of email clients are available though, and the ones that are being
updated are aware of the issue.
Do we suffer from advertising pop-ups? Nope, our present browser technology
is too primitive (Cab)! Our future browser tech is (hopefully) too
intelligent for that nonsense! (Hint to the Highwire team!)
How about adware. Again, the news from Rome is good. I wonder if some
deluded individual is working on a Windows 2000/Pentium 4 emulator for our
We have another lucky escape with spyware. If anyone tries to read the
contents of our hard disks, we'll give the finger to Big Brother!
How about those trojan worms? They might encounter an Atari and say "What is
this thing called MC68k? Cannot comprehend this instruction set?? Hellp!"
So in conclusion, it looks like the more things seem to change, the more
they really stay the same!
CiH, for Alive 8- Nov '03.