Once again there’s buzz about the appearence of a Mac OS X virus in the wild. The Mac OS X virus is a lot like Elvis: one is sighted every other day.
I read and hear a lot of speculations, more or less informed, wondering if “Macintosh computers” (as in running the Mac OS X Operating System) really are less prone to viruses and other malware than “Windows computers”, or if it’s just a case of being less widespread. Moreover, the recent wind of new Macintosh ads, specifically this one, blew on the fire of this argument.
I agree with those who said that the virus ad was a risky move, because it may easily backfire out of malice or simple disinformation. But let’s look at the facts, won’t we.
The art of computer programming is still in its infancy, and that is a fact we almost invariantly fail to consider, but it’s not like we don’t know what it takes to write secure software. Actually we came to realize that there is no such thing as secure software. Every piece of software suffers from bugs and flaws, which may lead to vulnerabilities which may be exploited by malware. Suddenly I see the two golden rules:
- mitigate the causes;
- recover from the effects.
that is, in less abstract terms:
- use less error–prone designs and coding practices;
- patch early, patch often.
Under this light, Mac OS X wins against Windows in terms of security, hands down and no matter the market share, due to its design modularity, better privilege separation, ease and quick availability of upgrades.
This is not to say I am personally and completely happy with the security level of Mac OS X, since I won’t trust anything that’s not free software (beyond certain reasonable levels). Further still, I will not endorse the typical Apple user’s feeling of contempt with malware. But these are all different stories.
In conclusion, I share the feeling that Microsoft once again missed the opportunity of making something really new, and potentially secure, with its forthcoming Vista. While some early reports look promising, something tells me it will all end up just the same. Are they really “victims” of their own success? We’ll see when Vista comes out.
UPDATE 20060505: Someone at the opposite part of the globe thinks it the same way as I do. What a strange coincidence.