On Jan 20th, 2011, I posted an entry on my office network and, jokingly, put up a picture in which viruses were pawning the Windows computers. Well, that picture became prophetic: while the Windows 7 machine gradually collapsed, the XP one became a zombie that got the entire University Internet service in trouble for a whole week. However, my Mandriva box emerged pristine, completely unscathed. This is the account of what happened.
The main computer in the section is an XP system, which was later linked to the new Windows 7 computer that was bought. The computer I use was also an XP one. However, I installed Mandriva Linux to make it a dual boot and now I seldom boot it in Windows. After less than a year, the Windows 7 station started to show some strange symptoms: It would not start, the screen would flicker, or the machine would freeze. We asked the department technician to come to examine it and, as Carla Schroder said it back in April 2010 (read article here), the technician deemed the whole thing a hardware problem (he blamed it on the hard drive) and substituted the HD. I told him I had my reserves, but people in the office pretty much ignored me.
Last week, the Internet service of the University was in terrible shape. I wanted to go talk to the IT Manager of the Faculty, but it was not necessary because he stormed yesterday into my department. He was a rabid pitbull after something to bite and barked that a machine in my section was sending viruses non-stop and collapsed the University Internet service. His boss, therefore, gave him a furious call with an ultimatum: "Either you find the infected computer, or you pull the switch off for the entire Faculty". He went to my machine first, but I told him that I only run Linux on it, upon which he responded: "Linux? Then it's not yours!" and jumped to the other machines and found the IP of the culprit...it was the XP system. The result? The machine was unhooked from the network and will remain in quarantine.
But what happened to the Windows 7 box? I asked the technician in my section if he had actually checked the integrity of the hard drive to support his claim. I knew the answer already; he only supposed it had been a hardware failure, but never checked the disk! Carla Schroder was absolutely right: people assume that computer problems are necessarily hardware, not OS problems!
I asked him to put the disk back. He reformatted it and Windows 7 is behaving OK so far. I wonder if Windows does not check the integrity of the disk BEFORE install... Anyway, I installed Mandriva (no indication of disk problems whatsoever, by the way) and now that system is also a dual boot.
Maybe it's time for people to stop blaming computer problems on hardware and to begin seeing reality. In my office, there are three stations for three individuals who are not computer experts. The two Windows machines broke; the Linux one is still up to the job and has not failed, not even once, since its Penguin OS was installed.
As a simple computer user, what can I learn? Well, the lesson that I see is that if you want to have Windows as the OS of your computer, you must accept that its security is flawed by design, which eventually will cause problems for an user that is not an expert. You must then invest a lot of time to learn how to protect your system, how to correctly operate the antivirus, firewall, anti-malware, etc. You also have to refrain from downloading shiny animations and programs to enhance your desktop, as they can compromise your system. On the other hand, if you do not want to be bothered by common security problems, then you should use Linux. Thus, you will discover that many so-called PC problems are but Windows problems.