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Microsoft Windows

The State Of The Personal Computer
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Despite what Apple’s TV ads might want you to believe, Windows PCs remain the standard for personal computers. This isn’t about ignorance—it’s all about mainstream affordability and limitless extensibility.

Even with the continued dominance of the Intel Core 2 platform throughout the year, Windows PCs live up to their reputation by offering the highest value of any group of PCs. Just last month, you could get a complete Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 with 3 GB of RAM, a 500 GB hard disk, and Windows Vista Premium from the Dell Outlet for under $400. While such a system already offers the average consumer more power than he or she will ever need, pairing the system with an aftermarket GPU transforms the budget PC into a veritable gaming machine. When the $600 Apple Mac Mini only offers an anemic 1.83 GHz Core 2 Duo with 1 GB of memory and 80 GB of storage, it’s hard to make the case for the “Apple Tax.” While Apple’s desktops are due for a refresh in January, it’s hard to argue against the value proposition of PCs.

It’s About Security!

Once you’ve bought into the Windows platform, you’ve also signed yourself up for the world of malware, system crashes, and anti-virus subscriptions. Ironically, today’s consumer has apparently gotten used to this. The only people who still demand rock-solid stability are technology gurus themselves. The average Joe has already surrendered to the idea of having systems that crash every once in a while and the potential of malware.

Machines with Windows XP RTM are infected at a staggering 33.8 systems per 1,000, while Vista SP1 brings this down to 4.5 per 1,000 and 2.3 per 1,000 (32-bit and 64-bit). As a group, Microsoft estimates 10 in 1,000 PCs as a whole have detected malware. To put that into perspective, if 10 in 1,000 flights crashed, one day of flights at Los Angeles International Airport would result in 6.2 plane crashes.

With careful system design (i.e. adequate power supplies and system RAM and good software practices), Windows PCs can be incredibly stable. In fact, the majority of hospitals across the United States run Windows PCs—and you know what? Things still work. Of course, it requires a vigilant IT team, carefully locked-down PCs, and adequate redundant fail-safe policies, but it’s possible.

Black Hat Programmers

It used to be that the only way to get a computer virus was if you were downloading software from Bulletin Board Systems. As the world moved onto the Internet, new threats arose. Security experts claimed that by running “up-to-date” anti-virus software and adhering to smart browsing (don’t open any email attachments from people you don’t know; don’t go to unusual Web sites, etc.), then people would remain secure. Today, that’s far from true.

While foolish users can easily infect a PC, even the most careful user can still run into trouble. Vulnerabilities in Windows and other popular applications have resulted in “remote code execution.” That is to say, security flaws in software allow hackers to “infect” and install malware on your PC without your consent. You don’t even have to visit unusual Web sites.

Black hat hackers have targeted plenty of mainstream sites, including Asus’ home page and the Dolphin Stadium site (home to the 2007 Super Bowl) during the past few years. Last September, BusinessWeek.com discovered that its Web site had been compromised and was potentially installing malware on visitors’ computers. Last October, it was discovered that a Trojan had been collecting banking data on half a million bank accounts.

Although Windows Vista x64 represents the most secure consumer operating system Microsoft has ever developed, it will always be one of the most vulnerable operating systems on the market today. Part of this can be attributed to Windows Vista’s legacy design, but the majority of security issues can be attributed to how Windows is targeted more—much malware represents the work of organized crime and Windows represents a more potent target.

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