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Alive 8

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
next time?

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
CT60's ;-)

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.

Alive 8