The great web designer and Mac guru John Gruber has a great piece on the frustrations of Windows crapware and why Mac users don’t have to deal with it. The same general arguments hold true for Linux users as well. He makes an excellent argument:
My answer to question posed earlier – why are Windows users besieged with security exploits, while Mac users suffer none — is that Windows is like a bad neighborhood, strewn with litter, mysterious odors, panhandlers, and untold dozens of petty annoyances. Many Windows users are simply resigned to the fact that their computers contain software that is not under their control. And if they’ll tolerate an annoying application that badgers them with pop-up ads, well, why not a spyware virus that logs every key you type, then sends them back to the creator? (That’s a real virus, by the way, Korgo, which hit Windows at the end of May and is spreading quickly.)
He uses the theories of James Q. Wilson on crime – that allowing small things like petty vandalism and broken windows to proliferate creates the conditions for larger problems.
This is a particularly brilliant comparison because it highlights the self-victimization that Windows users go through. I will never understand the attitude of Windows users that putting up with hoards of spyware programs is acceptable. When you have programs that completely destroy your network stack, send your passwords to the Russian mafia, and turn your computer into a spam relay, it’s time to consider what the hell you’re doing.
To extend Gruber’s metaphor, it’s like living in the slums in which prostitutes hang on every streetcorner and people are constantly sticking bags of crack in your pockets and using you as a drug mule. Would you seriously argue that "Hey, Skid Row has everything I need? What’s the problem with having to step over a couple of murder victims on the way to work?"
Yet that’s exactly what I hear from Windows users all the time. "IE is good enough" they say. Good enough for what? Good enough for forcing you to put up with annoying ads? Good enough for completely ruining your computer? Good enough that even one of the biggest Windows gurus can have his machine rendered so unusable that even he can’t fix it? If that’s good enough, I shudder to think what bad is. God only knows how many people have been the victims of identity theft from viruses like Korgo.
But Linux is too hard to use! and I can’t play games on a Mac comes the cry. Even assuming you assiduously download each and every security patch and run a firewall, you’re still not safe. Besides, if you’re going to go through all that trouble, you might as well run an alternate OS like Mac and Linux anyway. Arguing that Linux is too hard to use when you have to spend hours applying potentially harmful patches and tweaking your router is not exactly the best argument to make. The XBox lets you play games without having your bank records end up in Boris Sopranoski’s hands, or you can play the many games that are available for alternate operatings systems, including some like Frozen Bubble that are far better than their non-free, adware-laden counterparts.
I think Gruber is right on one thing – the reason that Linux and Mac doesn’t have a major adware/spyware/crapware problem is that the users of these OS care enough to say I’m not going to put up with this crap. If we see a broken window, we fix it. Security vulnerabilities aren’t covered up, they are fixed ASAP and always have been. When you care about security, it shows in your product. When you don’t, you end up with Korgo, Sasser, Netsky, Welchia, Blaster, and who knows what else that’s waiting in the wings, ready to make another nightmare for technical support.
Windows users have succumbed to the "soft bigotry of low expectations" – if you want to live in the slum, then live in the slum. Just don’t get your filth on my yard.