Why Windows is bad for business

Microsoft's operating system still dominates the globe, and that's a problem in more ways than one.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is highly skilled at being "a little cocky" as he trumpets the global desktop dominance of his company's Windows operating system.

"95 per cent of the world's computers run Windows," Ballmer proudly told an audience of students at Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology on Monday. "They don't run Mac, they don't run Linux."

Microsoft is also very good at suggesting that Windows malware is an industry problem rather than one that's a direct result of its own lax security.

The fact is, there are few users in this world who choose Windows because it's irresistibly good. Rather, most use it because of inertia, pure and simple. For that inertia, however, everyone pays a price -- especially organizations. Here's why Windows is undeniably bad for business.

1. It's a Monoculture

If Steve is to be believed, 95 per cent of the world's desktop computers run Windows. That, in biological terms, is what we call a "monoculture," meaning that there is an overwhelming predominance of one particular species.

Such a condition is generally toxic in biology -- introduce a single pathogen known to affect the leading species, and you wipe out them all! -- and so it is, too, in the world of computers. What could make life easier for a malicious hacker than knowing she'll hit the majority of the world's computers with a single worm?

Linux, by contrast, offers considerable strength in its diversity. Not only are there myriad distributions of Linux, but there are also multiple shells, packaging systems, mail clients and even underlying architectures in use, making it much harder for malware to hit more than a small proportion. Sorry, bad hackers!

2. Permissions

It's inevitable that human computer users are going to forget what they should do, or maybe even deliberately ignore the "should" in favor of what they want right now--like porn, pictures of cute kittens, or whatever.

On Linux, that's OK, because their computer accounts are looking out for them. Even if they slip and click on that malicious link, the most any malware can do is trash their individual computer and files.

Windows? Well, the picture's not so rosy. In fact, Windows users are pretty much given administrator access by default. So, a momentary human weakness can lead to widespread devastation starting with a single computer.

Microsoft's proposal about isolating affected computers is like closing the barn door after the horses have escaped. Hint: It's before they go that you need to do that, Microsoft -- like when you're establishing permissions to begin with.

3. Closed Code

No one but Microsoft developers can see Windows code. Some may argue that that makes it more secure -- the bad guys can't see it, right?

Wrong. It's a proven fact that open code improves security by enabling the countless good guys around the globe to inspect it, test it, and fix it as necessary. There is no such thing as security by obscurity.

4. Reliability

How many weeks go by without any unplanned downtime, Windows user? None, you say? And how about you, Linux user: What's unplanned downtime, you ask?

That's right. Whether it's due to malware or something else, Windows computers involve a lot of downtime. Linux computers don't. For business users, in particular, that's plain and simple.

5. Price

Finally, Windows may not seem like it costs anything, since it comes bundled on most PCs for sale today. But honestly, do you think Microsoft is a not-for-profit organization? You'd better believe that price is factored in, and you've already paid it.

With Linux, not only do you not have to pay for your operating system -- though you can, if you want extra support -- but you also don't have to keep upgrading your hardware to keep up with the exorbitant resources Windows demands. Free doesn't mean worthless--it just means without cost.

None of this is to say that Linux, or any other operating system, is perfect. The difference, though, is that no other operating system has created a monoculture and then tried to lay the responsibility for security on the industry as a whole the way Windows has.

It's not computer security that's a problem for business--it's Windows. Try something else and you may like what you find.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

Tags LinuxMicrosoftWindowssoftwareoperating systemsnon-Windows

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Katherine Noyes

PC World (US online)

4 Comments

john mitas

1

such a sad and ill informed personal piece. Your articles are terrible!

Peter Smith

2

"Windows is undeniably bad for business"

^^ Biggest crock I've read in a while.

I work in a company with about 150,000 employees around the world. The cost of training all employees to use a different operating system and different productivity software would be unfeasibly high. However, it would never happen because we rely on third party (not in-house) software which is only available on Windows (and sometimes Mac).

Until the costs and lost productivity involved in changing away from Windows become lower than the cost of licensing Windows for each user, then Windows will rightfully remain the best choice for business.

Linus Torvalds

3

You're a disgrace to us Linux users!!!

Kevin Loughrey

4

Since 1997, I have been promoting the use of Open Source Software as a means of accelerating the development of less fortunate nations. Not only would their development be goof for world peace it would, by raising the level of affluence and education of the people in these nations, cause the status of women to be improved as well... and that will cause a decline in the rate of growth of the human population; something that threatens the very existence of this planet.
When I started on this journey, I formed a PC support company. I did this so that I could test this posit and deliberately set out to install Open Source Software onto the servers and desktops of my customers (a list that grew to more than 250 sites over a period of 9 years). I regret to say that in most instances, placing OSS on desktops was not an outstanding success because Ubuntu had not, at that time, made the significant progress it has now in terms of user-friendliness but, in the area of servers, Linux was an unqualified success. We installed file servers, auto-backup systems, RAID, PABX software, Mail Server Software.. applications you paid tens of thousands of dollars for when using MS Back Office. Not only did these servers not fail like their Windows equivalents, they were never penetrated by unauthorised visitors; nor did any of them ever become victims of viruses and Trojans. The results were stark. Where some of my customers either refused to run Linux or were forced by their head offices to run Windows, their bills were tens of thousands of dollars more per annum than the Linux server sites. In one instance, the head office insisted the systems be maintained by another system support agent. In that case, I'm pleased (for reasons of ego!) to report his costs were literally 10 times more than ours! The local manager was not pleased!!

I ran the company for nine years before I was recalled back into the military because of my special professional qualifications.

Katherine you are absolutely "on the money". Absolutely, certainly! You are also right about the matter of closed source versus full source code visibility as is the case with Open Source Software. Without doubt, Open Source is a whole lot safer. Not only can a person, skilled in the art, quickly identify potential areas of vulnerability, you can also gain a good understanding of the limitations of the software you are using. You simply can't do that with closed source software. Anyone using closed source has effectively "out-sourced" their security to a third party who could have a commercial reason for not being fully truthful with you regarding the integrity of the software they are selling you.

I enjoyed your piece. Keep it up.

Warmest regards

Kevin Loughrey
CEO

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