Dell backtracks on Linux being safer than Windows

Recently Dell did something amazing. The Austin, TX computer giant admitted on one of their Web pages that "Ubuntu [Linux] is safer than Microsoft Windows." (PDF Link) But, now Dell has backed off to the far more generic "Ubuntu is secure". Boo!

The explanation for both statements has also changed a bit. When the statement was stronger, Dell's explanation read, "The vast majority of viruses and spyware written by hackers are not designed to target and attack Linux." Now, it's been watered down to read, "According to industry reports, Ubuntu is unaffected by the vast majority of viruses and spyware."

Ah, no. Anyone who pays any attention to operating system security knows that Windows is insecure both by design and by poor execution. Linux, while far from perfect, is far more secure.

You see Windows was designed as a single-user, non-networked operating system. That design is still at the heart of Windows, which is why security must always be an add-on to Windows. Linux, in contrast, was built from the ground up as a multi-user, networked system. Linux, like Unix, which came before it, was constructed to work in a world with hostile users.

Of course, Windows fans like to re-frame the security argument as the 'real' reason why Windows is attacked more often is because Windows is more popular than Linux. To which, I say, "So what?" Even if that was the only reason, in practice that makes Windows far less secure than Linux. You don't have to take my word for it. Just start glancing at the titles in our ComputerWorld security stories, and count the ones about Windows, and then count the ones pertaining to Linux. Enough said.

Besides, at the Internet server level, Linux is already as popular as Windows. Google, Yahoo, Facebook, all the top Internet sites, except the ones owned by Microsoft, run Linux. If a hacker really wanted to score big, would you want to crack some guy running Windows 7 or Google?

So why did Dell back down from their claims for Ubuntu Linux. I'm not getting any answers from Dell, but I think it's pretty easy to guess: Microsoft took note of people talking about Dell saying nice things about Linux, and decided to "have a word" with Dell. Microsoft has been pushing the computer vendors around for decades -- which is why Windows is so popular, not because Windows is better than the alternatives.

But, and this is what I find really interesting, Dell didn't pull the comments about Linux being more secure. They just softened them. I think this speaks volumes. It means that Dell remains committed to Ubuntu Linux on its laptops and netbooks. It also means that Microsoft can't get away with being the bully it once was to computer manufacturers.

Sure, I wish Dell has stuck by its original wording, but even so, I think this is another sign that we're seeing the beginning of the end for Microsoft's domination of computing. I'm not the only one. Reuters reports that Amit Midha, Dell's president for Greater China and South Asia, said, "There are going to be unique innovations coming up in the marketplace in two, three years, with a new form of computing, we want to be on that forefront ... So with Chrome or Android or anything like that we want to be one of the leaders." Interesting don't you think?

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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