It's got to be automated

I’ve just helped a friend get her laptop going again (I hope). She called me asking for help because Office couldn’t open some documents properly for her, and on top of that, her computer was acting strangely. It turned out she needed an extra feature from the Office CD installed, so I did it. But, while I did that, I discovered that she had a virus infection. When I connected her laptop to the Internet to update the antivirus definitions, it turned out that Symantec couldn’t update itself — possibly due to the virus. I decided to run a full system scan (she couldn’t remember the last time she did that), and found another virus. I left it running while I backed up some of her important documents to a flash drive and asked her to work on them on another computer. It remains to be seen whether that laptop will recover from the infection or not.

But this only served to underline the glaring problems of basic computer security that everyday users have to face. They may have antivirus software, but they don’t use it, nor do they update it regularly. They may have heard that it’s good to back up your files, but they don’t do it, or when they do it, it’s haphazard. A casual dragging of some files onto a flash drive, the burning of a CD with some important files, etc. They’ve also heard about spyware, but I guarantee you that most don’t have antispyware software installed, nor do they run it regularly. And that’s the rub! You can have even a brand new system, but it can still get infected and you can lose all your data. Or worse, some spyware will run through your files, picking out financial information, and you’ll find yourself with no money in the bank, or with your 401k account depleted. It’s happened, it’s been in the news, none of this should be new to anyone. But what do regular computer users (non-techies) do? They go right on using their computers as if they’re immune from this.

This is why I applaud both Microsoft and Apple for introducing software that backs up files automatically, and also runs regular antivirus and antispyware checks (these last two features only apply to Microsoft’s software). Microsoft introduced OneCare Live late last year, and it does everything regular users need it to do. I actually run it on my own laptop as well. Not only does it do all this automatically, but it’ll nag the user if there’s some action that needs to happen on their part. For example, it nagged me that I wasn’t backing up my files, and it continued to do so until I connected a USB drive to my laptop and set it to back them up to that location automatically. On top of all this, it also runs a defrag and cleans up my laptop of temp files. OneCare’s messages are color-coded, so even the simplest of users can figure out when something’s wrong. When everything’s fine, it’s green. When something needs to happen, it’s yellow. When things are bad, it’s red. It’s hard to miss the point.

When Apple releases the next version of OS X (code-named Leopard), it’ll include automatic backup software that’ll let you go back in time to various versions of files, or recover deleted files. It’s a huge step in the right direction (the interface itself is fantastic) considering that Apple has so far had only .Mac and its Backup software, but you had to pay $99 for .Mac to be able to use Backup. That was a silly arrangement. Apple’s also been lucky so far because there are very few viruses and spyware built for OS X, but that will by no means be the norm as their platform gains more users. I also don’t like the fact that there’s no defrag software built into OS X. Apple actually advises against defragmentation. Well, whether they want to recognize it or not, the contents of the hard drive will get fragmented over time, and it doesn’t matter whether a computer runs Windows, OS X or Linux; it’ll need to be defragmented sooner or later. I’d like to see some defrag utility from Apple, sooner rather than later. I’d rather not have to reformat the computer in order to get my bits organized.

I also appreciate that both Apple and Microsoft have moved to delivering critical system updates automatically. Apple will prompt you to download and install them, while Microsoft gives you the chance to automatically install them or to choose when you want to do it.

Regardless of the computing platform you or John, Jane or Mikey down the block uses, it’s all got to be automated. Each OS has to do all of the tasks that are vital for the well-functioning of that platform, automatically, by default, and to nag the user constantly when there’s an action to be taken. Sure, the nagging may get annoying for techies like me, but it’s vitally important for the normal users that don’t know what’s involved with keeping their system up to date… or else…


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