Different Rules for Big Developers

Microsoft's announcement of its upcoming anti-virus and anti-spamware service has this reader questioning the wisdom of selling both the OS and after-market security services.

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Different Rules for Big Developers
Ever feel like big companies play by different rules than small shops or individual developers?

I read in The New York Times the other day that Microsoft would begin offering a new for-pay security service called Windows OneCare that includes "virus and spyware protection, as well as PC backup and performance-enhancing functions for Windows PCs."

Maybe it's just me, but the idea of Microsoft offering new anti-virus services for Windows is a tad incongruous.

So, we get MSN Messenger and Windows Media Player for free, and installed by default whether we want them or not—both of which have introduced all sorts of vulnerabilities to Windows while getting Microsoft in oodles of hot water with various regulatory agencies at home and abroad—but we have to pay for basic Windows maintenance packages such as anti-virus, anti-spyware, and backup and performance utilities.

There is something just a bit wrong with this picture.

Spyware and viruses represent a serious risk to people who use Windows, and Microsoft is rightly concerned about the risks these pieces of malware present end users. At the same time, they exist in part because of the design of the operating system. Microsoft creates a product that is highly vulnerable to viruses and spyware, so now it proposes to sell us disease and the cure, too. There's humor here, but the joke's on us.

I bet the big drug companies are kicking themselves for not thinking of this. It's a bit like selling high-fat hamburgers and anti–artery-clogging medicines. Maybe this is something for one of the big chains to consider. The next time you go to your favorite fast-food haunt, you could place an order like this: "I'll take two jumbo cheeseburgers with extra cheese, hold the lettuce; an extra jumbo-size fries; a large, double-thick milkshake; and a Diet Coke. Oh yeah, and give me a couple artery-declogging pills, too. I'm gonna need 'em, heh heh."

I'm sure some will argue—and no doubt Microsoft will lead this chorus—that Microsoft doesn't create viruses or spyware. And I'll begrudgingly give you this point, notwithstanding MSN Messenger, which has a virus' persistence, or Windows Media Player, which behaves a lot like spyware. (In fairness, RealPlayer is probably worse. Free seems to be fairly expensive these days, from a privacy perspective.)

But viruses and spyware do represent significant security threats. If Microsoft is going to give us all the bells and whistles of messaging and media players for free, why not include robust security features, as well? The latter strikes me as far more important both to end users and Microsoft's good name.

Home users and businesses alike are vulnerable to attacks on a number of fronts, including privacy. It feels irresponsible (or perhaps just incredibly ballsy) to sell a vulnerable product to consumers—a product that leaves consumers at considerable financial risk in some circumstances—and then sell them the cure to fix the problems the product ships with.

I'm a programmer. I write quick-and-dirty department-level applications. Sometimes I work on slightly larger projects, but not usually. On my small scale, I could never get away with creating an application that required a separate, commercial service or application to ensure that my main app works properly. I'd be laughed at, if I even proposed such a thing. Apparently, the rules are different for the big boys.

Juan Gutierrez, Houston

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This story was written or compiled based on feedback from the readers of Visual Studio Magazine.

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