Bill Wants Us To Fess Up To Being Microsoft Lovers
I notice you are constantly bashing Firefox, Mozilla, Thunderbird and Netscape. I don't think you're doing your readers a service by bashing program almost everyone else on the Web feels are safer and better than Internet Explorer and Outlook Express. You claim to be "honest". If so, why don't you tell the truth about Firefox and the others - instead of constantly writing about how great Microsoft and their bug-ridden, insecure software is? Bill

We never "bashed" Firefox, Mozilla, or Netscape. As far as "Thunderbird" the email program is concerned we have some issues with it. But, let's stick to your premise that we're "Microsoft lovers" first, OK? Then will address the rest of your "question".

It is always amusing when we see other "Windows Tips & Tricks" newsletters bashing Microsoft. A typical newsletter of this genre recently featured big, bold, sensational headlines proclaiming "Another I.E. Vulnerability". Well, it's true, sensationalism sells. Look at The National Enquirer, for example. Unfortunately, sensationalism relies on half-truths or hyperbole to gain the attention of the reader. Usually there's enough truth in it to make it interesting. But the whole truth is seldom revealed. And using such brazen headlines and burying the story beneath several advertisements for programs that run on Windows makes the author seem hypocritical in our eyes.

We support Microsoft in most things but not always. We still don't think Microsoft's Windows Anti-Spyware (Windows Defender) is worth installing. It seems to overlook adware as a threat to your computer and remove only the most virulent spyware. We disagree with Microsoft's approach and we've said so - and we still don't recommend Microsoft's Anti-Spyware - no matter what they're calling it today. We think Microsoft gets too cozy with adware vendors and we're not sure Microsoft needs to be producing anti-virus or anti-spyware. Perhaps that is better left in the hands of companies with years of experience in these fields.

But, let's give credit where credit is due. It's likely that 80% of you reading this newsletter wouldn't be having much fun on your computer these days if Microsoft hadn't taken such great care making Windows easy-to-use. And, yes we know, Windows was derived from Apple, but Apple made the decision not to make their operating system compatible with PCs and this decision made Bill Gates the richest man in the world. So, do we blame Bill Gates or the poor decisions made by Apple in the beginning? If Apple made and continues to make the wrong decisions how can we blame someone else for taking their idea and making it work for the masses? And, in making Windows easy to use with many user-friendly features, they've opened the door to miscreants to use these very features to exploit the operating system.

But you cannot blame the spread of worms (like the current massive outbreak of the Sober worm) on Microsoft entirely. The only way this worm spreads is by people carelessly clicking on an attachment in an email that may have appeared to have come from a friend; people who don't install the latest patches and fixes from Microsoft's Windows Update and who surf the web and open email without having any anti-virus installed or with an old, outdated or expired anti-virus program installed. We have warned our readers countless times to keep their Windows updated and to install and continually update their anti-virus programs. If other newsletters such as ours would forego the sensationalistic headlines and really try to help people rather than scare them, you can be sure that worms like "Sober" would have less of an impact. But, maybe trying to help people isn't the way to sell products or get more readers. We constantly remind our readers never to click on an attachment in email, even if they think they know who it's from. Worms can spoof the "from" address and make it appear the email came from a friend, when indeed it did not. Our top priority continues to be educating our readers as best we can and helping them make informed decisions and avoiding some of the dangers they face on the Internet. We'll continue to do that and leave the sensational headlines to others. And we'll leave the Microsoft bashing to others too. It is the cool and popular thing to be a Microsoft basher, but bashing Microsoft does not do our readers much good. Many use and enjoy the features of Microsoft products and when used by informed people using good common sense they can be used safely.

Let's talk about Firefox (Mozilla and Netscape are built on the same code). Firefox is indeed a nice browser. Whether it's better than Internet Explorer, only you can decide. Is it safer? Right now, maybe somewhat. But calling it "The Safe Browser" is misleading. There have been more security issues found in Firefox in the past year than in Internet Explorer. Right now there's a critical vulnerability in Internet Explorer. This was exposed just recently and Microsoft is working on a patch for it. If that were the whole story and the end of the story as some would have you believe then perhaps sensational headlines are justified. But, currently there are two unpatched critical security flaws in Firefox. And these are not recent. One is from August and the other from September. And neither has been patch in all these months. Why don't others point this out? Well, it would hurt their credibility if they were trying to scare readers into installing Firefox because it's the "Safe" browser. One of the arguments that Microsoft bashers love to use is that it takes too long for Microsoft to issue patches for vulnerabilities and that Firefox patches theirs right away. Indeed. The facts don't bear that out, do they? And, just last week, the Mozilla foundation released version 1.5 - and guess what? They've already found a vulnerability in it - and it's only a week old. Bashing Firefox? Not at all. Just the facts. The truth. We just show both sides of the story. Internet Explorer has a serious vulnerability right now too and it's still unpatched. We think, though, that the biggest thing Firefox has going for it, is that it works well and it's not made by Microsoft. But is it the the "safe browser"? We stand by our statement - There is no such thing as a safe browser.

Firefox is used by less that 10% of those who browse the Internet. Indeed it's growing but right now it is not being used by enough people to make it an attractive target for spyware and adware vendors (although SmileyCentral AKA FunWebProducts appears to have a version which works in Firefox and SmileyCentral (FunWebProducts) is removed by many top-of-the-line anti-spyware programs and is considered by some security experts to be a security risk). If these pundits keep pushing Firefox they're going to ruin the very browser they promote. How? Well, just think if 30 or 40% begin using Firefox. Do you really think that adware and spyware vendors, always hungry for money, are just going to keep ignoring Firefox? You can be sure they won't. Where there's big money to be made, they'll be there. Many people think adware and spyware have not made their way into Firefox-land because Firefox is invulnerable. But it's not. Developers of adware and spyware will begin making "Firefox versions as soon as enough people being to use it to make it worth their while. Firefox Achilles heel is in its "Extensions" (just as Microsoft's Internet Explorer's is its "Active X")and any adware or spyware company knows this. Soon, if Firefox continues to proliferate, you'll see adware/spyware extensions for Firefox. Indeed, it's true, you'll have to give them permission to install, the same is true these days of adware and spyware for Internet Explorer. The secret is convincing the user they're going to get something great for nothing. And neither Firefox or Internet Explorer can stop a user from installing something if he or she really wants it. And, judging by the number of people who willingly, even enthusiastically, install all sorts of "smileys" "utilities" "weather applications" and the like, spyware or adware all, we think Firefox will be a fertile area of growth for the spyware/adware developers. Unfortunately.

We say use Firefox is you really think it's better. Use whatever browser you want. But don't use Firefox because it's the "Safe Browser". You might find yourself lulled into a false sense of security. And, what the future holds for Firefox is not clear. It's certain to be a major target for hackers and malware as soon as its user-base increases past the 15 to 20% level. How Firefox will deal with this, considering most of its programmers are working as volunteers and are not paid, remains to be seen. But, use the browser you prefer based on facts and not because one or the other claims to be the "Safe Browser".

Finally, Thunderbird's mail client is a basic mail program with a number of nice features. However it does not have the flexibility of Outlook Express. Our gripe with it is more or less ethnocentric. People, scared by the anti-Microsoft pundits' sensationalistic headlines, download and install Thunderbird. Then they wonder why their stationery no longer works, why they can't easily put background music in their emails or any number of things they could do with Outlook Express that they cannot do with Thunderbird. Fact: Thunderbird does not have nearly the features that many people like and have become used to in Outlook Express. If you use Thunderbird be prepared to give up a lot of the features you have grown to like about Outlook Express. And remember, a worm attached to to an email received in Thunderbird is just as infectious as one received in Outlook Express, if you click on it without having a good, updated, working anti-virus on your system.

We're afraid that the words "Safe Browser" and "Safe Email Program" will backfire when these programs (i.e. Firefox, Thunderbird, and the rest of the supposedly "safe" breed) become widely used by those who don't use common sense and think a browser or email program is going to protect them from all things harmful. These programs won't protect them from themselves and that's what they'd need to do to be truly safe. Education and common sense are far more important than any browser or any email program.

We're not against Mozilla, Firefox or any other browser. We're against those who bash Microsoft and only give you one-side of the story. There are times when Microsoft needs to be bashed and we've done so. There's a time when they need to given credit and we've done this too. Though, you have to understand on the Internet these days it's popular and cool to be a Microsoft basher because it's a bandwagon that's a popular ride.

Are we Microsoft-lovers? Not really. We think they take a lot of heat that is unfounded. With 800 million or so users worldwide they make a grand target for every slimy miscreant that slithers through cyberspace. And we're not interested in what others think of us or whether we're cool or not. We'd rather be right than "cool". And, come to think of it, maybe that's why we're not rich :-)

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