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As I have so many times before when writing articles of this type, I have to present my bona fides, lest I be accused of trying to pump one or another company's sales in order to make a stock market killing.
So here goes: I am beholden to neither Apple or Microsoft; I don't own stock in either one, and neither do I have any relatives working for them. I have a couple of Macs at home, but I have more Windows-equipped PCs - and I use a PC laptop as my main workhorse system. I do especially like my Intel iMac, and I would love to get a Macbook, but I won't just yet because I think it's too expensive for what you get (http://tinyurl.com/vkfvv).
I think, therefore, that it would be well within the realm of reason to call me reasonable and even objective when it comes to the never-ending feud between MS and Apple. Both Mac and Windows systems have their advantages and disadvantages, well known to most of us who have used one or another OS/computer developed by the rivals over the years.
So if anyone is qualified to call either company on a "cheap shot" against its competitor, it's me, and I think that anyone associated with Microsoft has a hell of a nerve carrying on over the discovery of a Windows-oriented worm in some Video iPods shipped in recent weeks - like anyone associated with Windows has any right to be talking about other people's viruses!
Yeah, I know - strong stuff for a usually mild mannered Newzgeek. I'm clearing out my e-mailbox for the messages I usually get after approaching this rivalry - hate mail from MS folk, and "Yeah, you really got those Windows jerks that time" messages from Mac lovers.
But fair is fair, and while there's no doubt that average the Joe, Jane or David, especially if an iPod customer, has a right to rail on about Apple's "big time goof" - as even many in the Mac community have been doing (http://tinyurl.com/twmlo), it's another thing for Microsoft and/or its employees to get on the Apple-bashing bandwagon, at least when it comes to viruses.
Apple itself announced the virus, which can infect Windows PCs when the iPod is attached to a PC. In a statement at (http://www.apple.com/support/windowsvirus), Apple said a small number of the devices had "left our contract manufacturer carrying the Windows RavMonE.exe virus. This known virus affects only Windows computers, and up to date anti-virus software, which is included with most Windows computers, should detect and remove it. So far, we have seen less than 25 reports concerning this problem."
Only the newer third-generation Video iPod is affected - Nanos, Shuffles and audio iPods are not affected, and the problem has been corrected. Several anti-virus manufacturers have stepped into the picture, as well, offering a patch to be applied to Windows computers before connecting iPods, thereby avoiding PC infection (the iPod itself is not at risk).
It's the kind of thing Windows users are used to doing at least twice a month, but in some MS employee blogs that I checked out, you'd think this was the first and only Windows virus in history. That's how nasty some of them were - and it got my blood boiling. With thousands of employees working at Microsoft and the immense popularity of blogging, it would stand to reason that there are at least some (actually, hundreds) of MS employees who blog about their work, Microsoft's corporate culture, and computing in general. I don't know whether or not Microsoft encourages this practice, but from a scan of some of the blogs being written by the company's staff, it looks like the company is at least neutral, if not encouraging, of blogging.
Within limits, of course. No company would, or should, tolerate revealing insider information of any kind - otherwise, they could end up like this guy (http://tinyurl.com/ssx8).
At this page (http://tinyurl.com/tckmd), you can link to some blogs by current and former MS employees. The blogs written by current employees are especially informative, chock full of information about upcoming MS products and inside tips on Windows tricks (looking for free on-line training in Office 2007, Vista or .Net 3.0? Check out http://tinyurl.com/yglemm before the end of December). And some of the blogs are are even somewhat critical of the company's policies, although the criticisms are usually of the type that can be easily solved (i.e complaints that XP's photo import system is much better than Vista's - the solution obviously being to use the already existing XP method in final versions of Vista). That's okay, though, because we're talking about MS employees' bread and butter.
Badmouthing the company by employees is never good for business, and despite Microsoft's history of treating its employees right (http://tinyurl.com/y76juy), everyone knows what's first to get cut when business goes sour (hint - it's not the French service in the executive dining room).
I have no problem with MS employees promoting products or make benign criticisms of things in the Microsoft universe - but when they make hay out of Apple's tsuris, especially when it comes to viruses, they are just asking for it.
Typical of the buzz on MS employee blogs is the comment by James, a Microsoft developer, who says that Apple should be "ashamed of itself" for releasing the video iPod with a "bonus" virus (http://tinyurl.com/ykanll). The comments on this page - obviously from other Windows stooges - implies that Apple somehow developed and accidentally (or not) released a virus to PC users. Motivation? One is left guessing, but at the very least, it was clumsiness/inefficiency if not an attempt to "punish" Windows users (why didn't they include a virus for Mac users?).
Other MS employee bloggers had a similar field day with the issue, with some saying that Apple should have apologized to users instead of blaming Windows ("As you might imagine, we are upset at Windows for not being more hardy against such viruses, and even more upset with ourselves for not catching it."). Regardless of the riff, there was a great deal of hostility in the MS employee posts. It was as if a lot of repressed aggression against something (their own company?) had found an escape hatch, with "The Management" allowing them to take potshots at Apple.
But a little research by these unlikely guardians of public virus safety would have confirmed Apple's account; it seems that some of the test PCs Apple had ordered for the development of the Windows interface of the Video iPod - that came pre-loaded with Windows, of course - already had the worm included on them (http://tinyurl.com/yjzwvr). So Apple innocently uses brand new computers with a virus included, courtesy of Windows, and the thing suddenly becomes Apple's fault?! Believe me, if I had been writing that Apple press release, it would have sounded a lot different.
Of course, it's not just bitter grapes that are part of Microsoft's agenda. Microsoft's "iPod Killer," the Zune, is set for release in about two weeks. So far, there have been contradictory reports about the how Zune measures up to the iPod, with the latest debate on how much battery life one can expect from a fully recharged Zune using all its features (video, wireless connection, etc.). Interestingly, even the unofficial MS-sponsored Zune blog (http://tinyurl.com/yk27ek) has the iPod slightly edging out the Zune in battery life (remember, that's MS's own most optimistic prediction).
The "iPod virus" story broke, it would seem, just in time for MS to bring more positive attention to its about to be released device. Barely two weeks before the Zune's release - the timing was impeccable, wasn't it? In fact, it reminds one of a theologically-related question: Was Microsoft's stroke of luck a case of a modern-day miracle or a matter of "the Lord helps those who help themselves?"
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