Hey, Dad...Can I have Linux back?

Hey, Dad...Can I have Linux back?

Summary: My oldest son, creator of flame wars, finally discovered that you can only surf to the nether regions of the Internet so many times before even Vista business succumbs to malware. His computer an unusable mass of pop-ups, spewing traffic over our network actually asked me tonight to reinstall Linux for him.

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My oldest son, creator of flame wars, finally discovered that you can only surf to the nether regions of the Internet so many times before even Vista business succumbs to malware. His computer an unusable mass of pop-ups, spewing traffic over our network actually asked me tonight to reinstall Linux for him.

He still wants a Vista virtual machine since Spore is a pretty fine game and his Zune probably won't play nice with Linux. However, for everyday use, he's done with Vista. Not only does it lack the "amusing desktop effects" (which his mother hates, by the way, on her new Linux desktop), but even running Clamwin and Windows Defender, he still managed to infect it with a variety of junk, rendering it useless when he had a term paper to write.

Obviously, we have other computers in the house that he could use, but there's nothing like sitting in your room with your own tunes and your own computer, high-speed Internet pumping wirelessly into your laptop (especially when all of your references are on the computer for a term paper due the next day). This is one thing that Linux can usually do well. While it might need some extra tweaking here and there, a good distro on decent hardware is usually fairly bulletproof in terms of malware.

No matter what the average teenager can throw at it (P2P, questionable social networking sites, and anything else that his mom doesn't like thinking about), most Linux installs are going to keep chugging. The malware simply isn't out there for Linux, whether or not the systems are inherently more secure.

So just to punish him for not coming to me sooner with the performance problems he'd been noticing (waiting instead for a critical mass of malware that put us beyond the point of system recovery), I'm giving him Ubuntu 8.10 beta. It's not really much punishment, though. In typical Canonical style, the late beta seems pretty darned stable. We'll see how it goes for daily use. At the moment I'm running about 45 minutes of updates and then need to see how VirtualBox is fairing on the beta and under Sun's guidance.

This is, of course one of the more important things to remember about Linux in Ed Tech (aside from the fact that it's free): kids are mean to computers and do things they probably shouldn't on the Internet. Linux (and to a lesser extent, OS X) is simply more resistant to abuse and for that reason alone is at least worth our consideration.

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Linux, Malware, Open Source, Security, Software

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Protection in place on the Windows machine?

    Wondering what manner of AV and Firewall , etc, etc, was in place? With all the security features supposedly available with Vista, it seems strange that a computer could get as fouled up as yours did.
    Jack Fuller
    • One wonders if Christopher...

      ...lets his son ride a bike without a helmet too?
      Sleeper Service
      • I am wondering more about why a leading manufacturer would not deliver a

        secure computer???? This is not like a bicycle where you have to physically put a helmet on. The "helmet" should be automatically enabled when you boot the computer.
        DonnieBoy
        • Anti-trust. Remeber they tried just that

          and the EU, among others, on behalf of Antivirus software companies, "threatend" anti-competative measures on them if they did.

          you are big on the whole, 'sue the pant's off of Microsoft for bundling' mindset, would you feel it acceptable if Microsoft added all these features to their OS at the factory?

          No you would be the one decrying that they should pull such features out.
          GuidingLight
          • The average consumer could care less about the details.

            They just want a computer that works. And, if MS can continue to bundle IE, I do not see the problem with bundling whatever it takes to make the computer safe.

            But, funny all of the problems that Microsoft brought on themselves!!!!
            DonnieBoy
          • Well, you may not

            [i]I do not see the problem with bundling whatever it takes to make the computer safe[/i]

            But apparently, the EU and others do, so what should Microsoft do, bundle it and get sued?

            Plus you can not have it all: There is no secure operating system out there (Mac's are hacked, Linux is hacked), so what is the solution?

            You seem to be able to blame everything others, yet you never have a solution to back up that blame.
            GuidingLight
          • Quite Frankly . . .

            If they do what they did in Europe (i.e., provide a "no-frills" version of Windows without IE), they should be able to bundle in AV and Anti spy/mal-ware without any legal problems . . .
            JLHenry
          • 2 years....

            on Ubuntu here and never hacked. Nor any spyware or any other malware.
            todbran@...
          • Does it need to come from MS?

            The thing EU was getting at was that is MS bundled there own software with it then why would Dell, HP, or any other manufacturer spend money on things like Norton? If it comes with it then increase your bottom line and not by the other stuff. The Companies can still bundle software with it, like norton or kapersky, but let those companies bid for the contract. If MS wants to create there own stuff have them bid as well. That was the software comes automatic and you still preserve the competition in the market.That is what EU was getting at. It wasn't the crazy sue MS over anything and everything. MS does have a monopoly and some thing needs to be done to help promote a better product. MS right now has no motivation to create a better product because everything runs on MS. So they can throw out absolute garbage and people and manufacturers will buy it because it runs everything. MS is even affecting the other OS. Instead of making drivers and software for the other platforms the other platforms are trying to run things with Windows dlls and code. But then MS goes after them for patent rights? How are those other product supposed to get better when they get sued by MS for making it better and the other companies aren't making it any easier. It's not just MS at fault but them being so big and influential is one of the main problems. The EU was merely stopping them before they got any bigger. As Bush should have done in 2000 when MS was convicted of monopoly and ordered to be disassembled. Just imagine how much better Linux, Mac OSX, and even MS would be if the ruling of the Judge was actually carried out?
            snaresV64
          • Yes, they should "Bundle" it.

            Bundling a product means that is is included in the shipment. It does not mean installed by default with parts of the application scattered throughout the hard drive.

            Bundle choices of anti malware, but make the user choose which to use, or decline installation.
            Update victim
          • "problems that Microsoft brought on themselves"??? You know better.

            Your obtuse assessment of why Windows machines can be subjected to viruses is a loser and you know it, you should try posting according to reality for a change.

            Since XP service pack two, all you need to secure Windows is a good AV program, (I currently use AVG but have also used Avast in the past)and a good anti spyware program (for that I use spybot). I haven't had a single malware problem on any of my XP computers in years and the Vista laptop I use hasn't had a single problem since I started using it over a year ago.

            I go anyplace I please on the net and haven't had an occurrence that hasn't been proactivly handled. Mind you, I do not "please" myself by continuing into obvious oblivion when I get warnings and highly suspicious signs that there is probably nothing but big trouble ahead.

            Agreed, there are plenty of people out there who would drive their car off a cliff just to have a look at whats at the bottom, so surfing into bizarre territory despite your AV chiming off like an alarm clock would mean nothing to them.

            Windows is subject to more malware attacks then other OS's due to the fact that Windows OS's are very complex due to their massively broad frontwards and backwards compatibility with both hardware and software and their plug and play ease of use.

            It makes Windows OS's far more likely to have security holes here and there, particularly given the fact that so many varieties of third party software have been made for Windows over the years.

            The simple fact is through free security programs that are massively reliable and well respected that can be had for free and with only minor common sense (admittedly often not present in the young in an ongoing basis, or not present at all in some complete newbies)a Windows machine can be pretty much malware free for years and years. No matter what you do, so long as what you do isn't just plain stupid.

            Sure, Linux is definitely inherently more secure and so is OSX (to a slightly lesser degree then Linux) from what I can see as compared to Windows machines. Add in the fact that the significantly lower footprint of Linux and OSX on the internet most often provides less incentive for hackers to take the time that would be required to infect these tougher OS's, you cant argue that Windows will keep you more secure then OSX or Linux.

            But the problem Linux does have is as follows: Windows can be made so secure for free, and easily, that security concerns for a Windows user with a brain will rank so far down the mast it wont even show a flag. Windows may not be "as secure" as the alternatives, but it is far more than secure enough. This is proved out by the fact that if there was anything close to the kinds of security FUD spread around here about Windows that half the computers in the world would be shut down half the time and the world would be shut down (computer wise) a long time ago because the world uses Windows.

            Now, given that security for Windows is a long gone red herring still brought up by Windows haters, consider the built in problems Linux and OSX has for avid Windows users. For a happy Windows user, Linux and OSX are simple and completely broken because they will not simply be installed on the users current hardware and boot up using all the same programs and have the same use of Windows plug and play ease.
            Cayble
          • So what will the excuse be when

            Linux hits a significant market share and still doesn't suffer near the level of abuse and breakage that Windows has? Then what will you guys come up with for your reasoning? Market share is total bullshat, and that is supported by the sheer number of LAMP sites up and running with no where near the infection issues of Windows. ]:)
            Linux User 147560
          • All you need to secure Windows is a good AV program...

            Oh, that's a laugh. My mother has an XP Pro machine with SP3, AVG Free 8.0 and Spybot Search and Destroy version 1.6.2. Plus she has ZoneAlarm Firewall and uses only Firefox to surf and do e-mail. Yet she still managed to get a Trojan on her system (Zlob) that pretends to be an antivirus program and constantly bombards her with pop-ups and nags to purchase software that isn't real.

            Windows XP SP3 is about a secure as an open sewer pipe.
            NCWeber
          • You know better?

            ?For a happy Windows user, Linux and OSX are simple and completely broken because they will not simply be installed on the users current hardware and boot up using all the same programs and have the same use of Windows plug and play ease.?

            You have obviously not used Linux(at least not lately). When was the last time you spent less than an hour to install Windows (any Version) with all the updates and software you need? My last install of Vista Ultimate took almost four hours. Windows is not easy to install. People think it is because is comes preloaded and most users wouldn't have a clue as to how to setup and install an operating system, so why would you assume that they would know or care about securing their system. You at least have a clue about ?safe hex?, but to say Windows is so hard to secure because it is so complex shows a lack of understanding in what an operating system does, all modern operating systems are complex if you define complex by the number of lines of code used to implement functionality.

            ?But the problem Linux does have is as follows: Windows can be made so secure for free, and easily, that security concerns for a Windows user with a brain will rank so far down the mast it wont even show a flag. Windows may not be "as secure" as the alternatives, but it is far more than secure enough. This is proved out by the fact that if there was anything close to the kinds of security FUD spread around here about Windows that half the computers in the world would be shut down half the time and the world would be shut down (computer wise) a long time ago because the world uses Windows.?

            How is this a Linux problem? Are you saying that Linux being secure ?out of the box? is a problem? I would say that Windows not being secure ?out of the box? is a problem.

            ?Windows is subject to more malware attacks then other OS's due to the fact that Windows OS's are very complex due to their massively broad frontwards and backwards compatibility with both hardware and software and their plug and play ease of use.?

            I would like you to install Vista on a Power PC(Apple) or any PC/server platform other than x86 (without a VM) . What file systems can you use? You do know that there are more file systems then NTFS and FAT. What file formats are your documents in? Are those formats portable to other platforms? Have you ever installed Windows and found that your Ethernet wasn't working because Windows didn't have a generic driver that would make it function so you could get to the Internet to get the rest of the drivers you need to make your hardware function? (I use a Live Linux CD to download them and save them to a thumb drive) So much for compatibility.

            ?Now, given that security for Windows is a long gone red herring still brought up by Windows haters,?

            Red Herring? A lesson Microsoft has only embraced because they had to is ?Security is not important, it's a necessity.? Yet still Windows gets exploited. I see it everyday I work and every time I go to support forums.

            I don't hate Windows, I just find it less useful in my day to day use of my computers than Linux. Windows will keep putting money in my pocket for years to come as it has in the years past.
            silverbeard
          • Forget Antitrust

            That fact that an operating system (and an expensive one) needs a bunch of additional software to secure it clearly demonstrates that the operating system is so inherently flawed that it needs to be replaced.

            Windows was not created with security in mind; MS has been trying to tack it on as they've gone along. Instead of starting with a very permissible operating system and then trying to lock it down, start with security in mind (like OpenBSD) and then start to open it up.

            Just ask any firewall admin: do they start with an "allow everything" rule and then start trying to lock it down, or do they have explicit "allow" commands and then a general "deny all"? Windows was created with "allow all" and they have been trying to secure it through the years. They need to trash it and start again; begin with "deny all" and enable only the features you need.
            davidr69
          • Yes, it was.

            [i]Windows was not created with security in mind[/i]

            Windows NT, of which XP and Vista are derived, was designed with security from the beginning (fifteen years ago). The security model used is very similar to UNIX and OS X. Implementation details vary but the model is similar (save for MAC capability).
            ye
          • Right, I just can not stop laughing. An MS OS designed from the ground up

            for security. Now THAT is funny.
            DonnieBoy
          • Security an afterthought

            NT was not a "new" operating system. Granted, it had security features and a microkernel, but then again, you can technically replace GNU with a microkernel + OS and still have Linux. That's what happened with NT; they brought in a microkernel and called the OS new; but all the old API's were still there, and all of the hooks were still there that allowed programmers to go into ring 0.

            Remember how they wanted apps built for Windows95 to also be certified for WindowsNT? NT had so much baggage that it was like having no security at all, and the entire concept of running a file based on name rather than file attributes is completely flawed. Does that "feature" still exist in Vista? Yes, so despite all this "newness", Vista still includes old garbage which can easily be exploited.
            davidr69
          • @davidr69: Security was built in from day one.

            It was not an afterthought in the NT line. The ability to run Windows 95 programs, wrt security, was not because NT lacked security but rather to configure NT to "bypass" its security by having the default user a member of the administrators group. This policy existed all the way until Vista (and technically still does exist in Vista).
            ye
          • Security as an after thought? You could be correct

            Those many yras ago, who would have thought that that so many would be so intent on hacking and adware, virus and trojon writing? I could not have predicted it would reach the heights it has today.

            It was never an issue as no one 'surfed the net' with a Unix machine, and Linux has its fair share of issues and hacks today.

            Carpet bombing via the browser? There is an entire new avenue. Heaven forbid you inadvertebtly run the program as you are attempting to delte it.

            A Virus for the iPhone; nobody wasted any time there, did they?

            Like anything in life created in the past: security was never the major issue it is today.
            GuidingLight