Tuesday July 6, 2004
I had a perfectly lovely day, a smooth and satisfactory local shopping expedition, a jolly good bike ride, a really decent dinner and a pleasant evening. All was right with my world and, at basics, all is right with my world.
There I was late in the evening, doing a last email check, when my computer started telling me it wasn’t happy. Norton Anti-virus was flashing messages at me, telling me it was detecting and deleting the ‘Download.Trojan’. Whoops.
Let’s not panic now. Let’s get the latest update from Norton and run a full system scan. After all, I run Anti-virus and Personal Firewall all the time. Nothing can really be wrong.
So that’s what I did. And Norton told me there was no infection on my computer.
Strange, I thought. It must have come from somewhere. What was I doing when the funnies started to happen? Oh, yes, trying to play a CD using Windows Media Player. So I started up Windows Media Player and, bang, the virus warnings started again, each time telling me the darn thing had been deleted. I stopped, restarted, and had another go at Windows Media Player. Same thing.
So, off I went to Norton’s web site to find out what I can do to remove the thing. The first thing I learned was that containment is ‘Easy’. That’s good news. It means that Norton Anti-virus is doing the job for me. Then I’m told that removal is also ‘Easy’. Just follow these simple instructions. Right, I thought. That’s what I shall do.
So I backed up my data files, just in case, and ran a virus scan on the backup. All clear. Then I started out into the strange land of the Windows technicians, disabling System Restore, starting up in Safe Mode (it’s a long time since I had to do that, and it ain’t too straight forward in XP, at least, it’s not obvious), and running a full system scan once more. That took an age, and once again, told me there’s nothing wrong, no virii detected, nothing odd reported at all.
Oh dear. I set the system back to normal, again, not a simple process, and clicked on Windows Media Player. Zap. Up came Norton Anti-virus again, telling me it had killed the Download.Trojan.
By then it was getting to be really late. Now, there’s no obvious way to remove Windows Media Player, which was my next thought. No can do. So, I set Real Player as my default player, and told the system not to use Windows Media Player. And resolved two things for tomorrow: (1) Don’t play any media files at all; (2) Go off on to the Internet and see what I can find.
I hate this. I hate feeling helpless. I’m pretty well knowledgeable about computing, and about computers; after all, that’s what I used to do for a living. Now, however, apart from falling back on good professional practice when it comes to backup, security and following instructions, I don’t do computers. To me, the box is something I use for writing, photography and communications. I have no interest any more in the internals.
I could do, of course. Computing is a lively and vibrant hobby, or occupation. Doing clever things with operating systems, programming and software is absorbing, and rewarding, and I based my whole career on that. Now, though, for me, it has nothing to do with my real world. I don’t want to know. I hand out my cash, buy the hardware and the software, and I jolly well expect value for money. It’s not much to ask, surely?
So, there you go. I’m quite confident that my system is safe to use for email and for my routine Internet work. It is however infected, and that’s a bad feeling. I shall sort it out tomorrow, even if it means reformatting my hard disks and reinstalling all the software.
But. I really shouldn’t have to do this. I pay good money to Microsoft for their software, and I don’t do anything with it that isn’t plain and simple personal usage. I never download software. I never accept attachments in email. And yet, even so, using Microsoft Windows XP, including Microsoft Internet Explorer and Microsoft Media Player, my work is interrupted and rendered unsafe. My data are endangered. My ‘quiet enjoyment’ of my personal computer is attacked, and shattered. Again. The plain fact is that Microsoft makes, markets, and generates obscene fortunes out of imperfect, flawed software. Microsoft software is, in short, crap.
Hey ho. What’s a simple-minded rural poet to do about it? Nothing, really. Just keep on paying, and keep on taking the crap.
Now, by going public with this episode, and my reaction to it, I’m opening myself up to the Apple-ites and the Unix-wallahs, who will say I shouldn’t use Microsoft software. ‘Apple computers don’t suffer from virus threats’, they say. Twaddle. The first recorded computer virus was generated on and designed to attack Apple systems. The only reason Apple computers don’t get so much attention from the hackers is because, relatively, there are so few Apple computers in use. Similarly, I’ll be urged to go over to using UNIX/LINUX, for much the same reason. Well, I used UNIX back in the days when it ran on PDP-8s, and loved the beast. But, it ain’t secure. It was never designed to be secure. And the same design principles and weaknesses are clearly apparent in modern UNIX variants.
I don’t want to change my preferred hardware and software setup and, even if I did, I couldn’t really justify the expense. Going Apple would get me closer to my ‘black box’ desires but I will under no circumstances have anything to do with a company that is so aggressive and protective of its product, and which is essentially anti-European in marketing, support and pricing. It may be a good solution in America; it ain’t so here. Going UNIX or LINUX would do nothing for me at all; it’d be the best possible choice if I wanted to play computers, but it ain’t ready for the simple-minded user yet, and I much prefer to be a simple-minded user.
And, finally, in my simple-minded way, I’m very, very cross with Microsoft. How dare they make and market such crap software? How dare they take my money, give me such a poor return, and follow it up with non-existent technical support?
It seems we have to extend the old adage. Death, taxes, and crap software from Microsoft are the only certainties in life. Bless us all, for we have clearly sinned.
Anyway. When I’d snapped the computer off in disgust, and cursed Microsoft and the hackers and virus-makers to high heaven, I went outside for a breather. There was a near-full moon rising in the east, mysterious and red in the remaining haze from a lovely summer’s day. Night birds sang their soft songs and, out in the meadow, our resident barn owl hooted quietly as he went about his business. The air was filled with the fresh, healing aroma of recent rain. This is the real world, the only world that really matters to me. In spite of what Microsoft may say as they peddle their flawed and imperfect product, I don’t need Windows to see it.
|Rain on the way