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Google's security excuse for dumping Windows is bogus, say analysts

Likely related to tension between the two companies, experts speculate

June 1, 2010 04:05 PM ET

Computerworld - If a report is accurate and Google is urging its workers to dump Windows because of security concerns, the company's rationale is bogus and disingenuous, analysts said today.

The experts were reacting to a story published Monday on the Financial Times' Web site that cited several unnamed Google employees who said the company is phasing out the use of MIcrosoft's Windows operating system because of security concerns.

Instead of Windows, Google is reportedly offering workers the choice between Macs running Apple's Mac OS X and PCs running Linux.

Several analysts scoffed at the security excuse.

"There must be other motives besides security for such a move," said John Pescatore, an analyst at Gartner who specializes in security issues. "As an academic exercise, yes, the 'security-by-obscurity' model works," he said, referring to the concept that users are safer running Mac OS X and Linux because they have much smaller market shares than Windows, and so offer hackers a less attractive target.

That's why most malware is written for Windows machines, Pescatore added.

"But for Google -- or for that matter a company like Oracle or Cisco -- it doesn't, because [attackers] target them specifically," he continued. "If [hackers] know that Google uses Macs, then they'll just target the company with Mac malware. And Mac malware exists."

Windows and its supporting ecosystem do have more zero-day vulnerabilities -- flaws that are exploited before a patch is available from the vendor -- Pescatore acknowledged. "But if you look at the total cost of ownership of, say, Macs in the enterprise, you're not going to find yourself spending any less on security than if you were running Windows."

Google's corporate network was hacked late last year when attackers exploited an unpatched vulnerability in Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6, security researchers said in January.

"The idea that security is behind this is a little bogus," added Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with the Altimeter Group. "Windows seems pretty good for Fortune 500 companies."

Like Pescatore, Gartenberg sees Google's move, if true, driven by other factors than security. "It's an interesting excuse, but to me, it underscores the tension between Google and Microsoft," Gartenberg said.

The two companies are locked in simultaneous battles over everything from search, where Google is the dominant player, to business productivity software, where Microsoft rules.

Last month, Google and Microsoft engaged in a public spat over Microsoft's Office suite, with Google claiming that its online Google Docs was a less expensive alternative for companies considering upgrading to the about-to-be-released-to-retail Office 2010; Microsoft countered that Docs can't cut it.

"Google has its own browser, its own [application] software and its own OS," said Gartenberg, talking about Chrome OS, the unreleased operating system Google announced 11 months ago but won't release until later this year. "So I can't say this [talk of ditching Windows] comes as a total shock. But it seems a little disingenuous."



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