Will racket ware shift the client-server balance?

Chromium could fix the racket ware problem, while shifting the location of where computing happens from your desk to a cloud.

Most people I know like having powerful clients.

Most of these people run Windows. Despite all the Apple ads, despite all the talk about desktop Linux, chances are 9 out of 10 the PC on your desk runs Windows. (Picture from Lovefords.com.)

Every few years Microsoft updates Windows, and as we get new machines we dutifully upgrade. The latest version is called Windows 7.

Today's Windows machines have terabytes of storage, gigabytes of memory, and run at billions of instructions per second. They're the Lincoln Continentals of the PC world. (That's the interior of a 1960 Lincoln above.)

Remember Lincolns? Got one? I didn't think so. Why not? Too big, too bulky, constantly breaking down? And, as Ralph Nader wrote, unsafe at any speed.

The same is becoming true for Windows. The best evidence is the rise of what I call racket ware.

This is racket as in protection racket. You got a lot of nice data in there, shame if something should happen to it. And you're always under threat, from viruses, from trojans, from programs that want to capture your PC and use it to shoot spam at people or click on ads, and just from general clutter, what I call desktop dust bunnies.

A whole industry has risen to fight this menace. You can't get away with just an anti-viral. You need a program that fights spyware and one that cleans your registry, too.

A lot of this stuff is sold as "free." Free as in freecreditreport.com.

Say your anti-viral comes up with a few thousand files it can't deal with. They're password protected, even when you don't have a password. They look scary, but the anti-viral can't get in to look.

So you go on the Internet, and you find one of these "free" programs. You download it, you load it, it runs, you waste a few hours, it tells you there are terrible, terrible problems with your machine. Now will you pay me to fix them?

What? I've got an anti-viral. I've got a spyware tool, and I clean my registry. I'm into you people for $150 in license costs a year and you want more? Oh, we're different, the software seems to say. We work. They just pretend to.

And maybe they do. Some of these rackets are legitimate -- one reason I haven't named names. Others know what they're fighting because they come from the same source.

So do you buy or do you watch your PC slow to a crawl?

Some noted security experts, like Bruce Schneier, call this game inevitable, as in 2+2=4 inevitable. As software gets more complex, capable of doing more, the program gets bigger, and easier to exploit. A software cop must cover every window. A bad guy has to open just one.

The folks at Google promise to solve this next year with what they call the Google Chrome OS. (The proper term is Chromium OS.) It will be based on open source Linux, and the Google Chrome browser. It will be designed for small, cheap clients, like netbooks, so it won't be complex. They promise all sorts of tricks to make it secure by default.

But the business model of Google Chromium is interesting. As critics note, it's designed to push your money, time, attention and data toward servers. Google servers. Chrome and Chromium could fix the racket ware problem, while shifting the location of where computing happens from your desk to a cloud.

Is it worth it? You may not think so. But if you don't you had better hope that Bruce Schneier is wrong and that Windows can get its security act together, so we're not subject to these protection rackets.

Because an alternative is coming. Chromium and the Google Cloud will be sold as seat belts, air bags, and all the fancy differences that make today's cars so much safer than yesterday's.

Of course, in this case the price is someone else does the driving.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com