Log: Brief reports and tidbits from the Info-Sphere

Melissa virus panic attack - Slate slags Linux

Published March 29, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

Melissa virus panic attack
You couldn't open a newspaper over the last couple days without reading
a report about the spread of a dangerous new computer virus, "Melissa," which, lengthy stories in the New York Times and elsewhere declared, "is carried by e-mail." Panic reigned -- particularly among novice computer users for whom the
phrase "computer virus" conjures terrifying images of their processors running a fever and their hard drives breaking out in pox.

So once again, it's time to remind people: You can't "catch" a
computer virus by opening an e-mail message.
The Melissa virus is not
contained in the plain-text body of an e-mail but rather in an attached
Microsoft Word document. You should always be extremely careful about
opening files that arrive as e-mail attachments, particularly if you're not
sure who sent them.

In Melissa's recipe for mischief, when you open the Word file
attachment (usually named "list.doc") -- which contains a list of porn
sites -- the file uses Word macros to grab the names of dozens of your
friends from your Microsoft Outlook e-mail program's address book and send
the same virus-infected file to them, with a sneaky subject line that reads
"Important Message from [your name]." (If you don't use Outlook that won't
happen, but the virus will still change some settings in your Word
program.) For individual users this is more nuisance than terror -- but it
does pose a danger to corporate mail servers and Internet service
providers, as the volume of virus-generated messages grows geometrically
and clogs the pipes.

The culprit here is not e-mail itself, which remains a pretty benign
form of electronic communication that can do very little to harm your
computer system. The real problem lies with Microsoft Word, Microsoft
Outlook and Microsoft's whole design philosophy. Microsoft wants to
automate tasks and build suites of products that work together, but it
hasn't done a very good job of building security and safeguards along the
way. In the past Microsoft has dismissed the issue of macro viruses by
labeling them "prank macros"; maybe Melissa will finally send Microsoft an
"important message" to take the problem seriously.

-- Scott Rosenberg

SALON | March 30, 1999

Slate slags Linux

Now that every other publication in the media universe has chimed in with its two bits about Linux, the operating system that just won't shut up, along comes Slate.

The subject, of course, is full of land mines for a Microsoft-owned publication, and there are at least a couple of oddities in the Slate coverage that the hordes of hypersensitive free-software geeks searching for signs of bias will pounce upon. Andrew Shuman asserts that the Free Software Foundation wants all software to be "open source" -- but that organization and its curmudgeonly founder, Richard Stallman, despise that term as a euphemistic commercial cop-out that betrays the basic principles of free software. Shuman also complains that open-source developers won't "want to solve all the niggling little problems that users come up with" -- yet most free software enthusiasts consider near-instantaneous bug-fixing to be one of the strengths of their development model.

But there's a larger problem with Slate's coverage. Although it chose to run two separate pieces on Linux, both said essentially the same thing: Linux is hard to install, and isn't an adequate desktop substitute for the average user. True enough -- I've said so myself, and so have a lot of other people.

But the big Linux story today isn't about the desktop -- it's the very real competition that Linux is giving Windows NT in the market for computer server operating systems. That's what's driving hardware vendors like IBM and Dell to announce that they will begin to sell and support Linux on their computers. Servers handle high-traffic, load-intensive jobs like running a local network or hosting a Web site; Microsoft wants that market badly, but Linux is posing a real threat to its plans. You'll find a better explanation of why Linux is important in Microsoft's own internal analysis, as expressed in the infamous Halloween memo, than in the pages of Slate.
-- Andrew Leonard

By Salon Tech Writers

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