How Microsoft Marketing Screwed Us All.

Last Updated Dec 21, 2007 11:10 AM EST

Computer Virus -- Microsoft's FaultHave you heard about the storm worm? It's a particularly nasty computer virus that's been popping up all year in different forms. What's different about this virus is that it has a business model and is actually making money for the people who created it. And those people are using that money to pay for research and development into creating new, and more toxic computer viruses. Nice, eh?

This new breed of computer virus can mine your system for identity data and keystroke data. So if your machine gets infected, there's now a good chance that you'll be a victim of identity theft. And that can mean years of frustration, credit problems and hassles with banks and credit card companies. And don't forget -- if your data is compromised, then the bad guys have all your customer contact data. They can SPAM your customers from YOUR computer.

Viruses are a particular problem for sales pros because sales pros are more likely to use a portable computer as their primary machine. And those portable computers are more likely to be used in public places, using public wireless networks, which are one of the ways that new machines get infected. Furthermore, sales pros often have long lists of emails and thus are more likely to open an infected email by accident.

If you're a sales pro, then, you'll probably be irritated to know that computer viruses remain a major threat to everyone's data security because of a Marketing decision. Yes, that's right. The reason that today's computers and today's computer networks are so easily infected stems back to a decision made at Microsoft, for marketing reasons.

In other words, we're all being screwed by Microsoft Marketing. Let me explain.

Most people don't know it, but it's entirely possible to build computer systems that can't be infected by viruses. In fact, the original computers were specifically programmed so that no application (like a browser or word processor) could make permanent changes in any other application or in the operating system.

In the timesharing systems of the 1970's - the precursors of the Internet - there was no way for an application to crash the operating system, or to make any changes in the operating system that could impact another program. Those systems often ran for YEARS without ever crashing - while simultaneously supporting thousands of users and applications.

Since the challenge of computer security was solved decades ago, why are we still worrying about viruses? I'll tell you.

At some point during the development of the Windows operating system, a discussion took place at Microsoft about the next version of their operating system. Microsoft (which had plenty of trained operating system programmers who knew the score) could have implemented Windows using the same security features that had been in place in the timesharing world for decades.

Instead, they decided to do the opposite - to blur the distinction between applications and the operating system. They did this for marketing reasons. They wanted to leverage their dominant market position in operating systems to sell more applications and figured it would be easier to do so if the operating system was more intimate their applications, thereby tending to lock people into using Microsoft's own products.

It worked, of course, as evidenced by Microsoft's dominant position in personal productivity applications and browsers. However, as the result of that marketing decision, the world is now stuck with computers that are inherently insecure.

On a Windows machine, virtually any website can alter the operating system to make it do whatever the website wants it to do. The only defenses are "after the fact" fallbacks like firewalls and virus scanners. And unlike the architectural security that was built into early operating systems, "after the fact" security can always be thwarted.

So if your computer crashes because of a virus, or infects your company network, or suddenly routes porn SPAM from your computer to your most valued customers - you know who to thank: the marketing folk at Microsoft who put their firm's ability to make money ahead of your right to have a computer that works reliably and keeps your data safe.