Fact or Fiction? Six computing myths explored
April fools day is looming and round this time of year we all need to be on our guard for fake news and other pranks all designed to make us look silly. Separating fact from fiction in the technology world isn’t always easy. Here are 6 often quoted ‘facts’ about computing that many so-called experts will often tell you, but is there any truth to these so called facts or are they better saved for an April fools?
Microsoft is killing the Windows desktop – When Microsoft introduced Windows 8, they introduced a whole new user interface. This new interface, which Microsoft like to call the “Modern UI” is the companies latest attempt to break into the tablet PC market. As well as being met with confusion from many users, many more took this new interface to mean that Microsoft were trying to kill the traditional Windows desktop and that Windows 8 was the beginning of the end for Windows as we know it.
Is there any truth to this? Probably not. Microsoft has a huge market share in business computing, where workers still typically work at a desk or at least with a laptop. The home computer market may be diversifying, with tablets taking some of the market share from laptops, but despite PC sales slowing, there are still millions of machines sold every year and many more millions in regular use in homes around the world. In among all the Windows 8 controversy, the fact that Microsoft introduced several improvements to the Desktop in Windows 8, including an overhaul of File Explorer and improved multi-monitor support seems to get forgotten.
For the foreseeable future, the Windows desktop is entirely safe.
Windows is inherently insecure – This is a popular one that self-declared computer experts often like to tell you, Windows gets all the viruses because it’s insecure, Microsoft are ‘hopeless’ at security, so on and so forth, but is there any truth to this?
Back in the Windows XP days, there was a grain of truth to this statement (and yes, that applies to those of you still stubbornly sticking to Windows XP). Windows XP prioritised convenience and backwards compatibility over security. Virtually all Windows XP users ran as administrators as it was too inconvenient to do otherwise. When running like this, it is very easy for malware to propagate as there are no security mechanisms to stop it copying itself wherever it likes.
With Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced User Account Control and locked down the operating system. Programs now need permission to perform administrative tasks. Similar mechanisms were already in place in operating systems like Linux and OSX (Apple Mac). Some PC security experts believe that UAC is even more secure than these mechanisms, as it is hardened against malware hijacking the prompts and automatically answering for the user, though this is of course fiercely debated by many Macintosh and Linux enthusiasts.
Microsoft has made huge strides in improving security over the last ten years. Back in 2002, they launched their “Trustworthy Computing” initiative, which saw the company completely review how it handled security while building programs and updating Windows. Secunia, a company that analyses application vulnerability, notes that Microsoft has two-thirds of the software in the top 50 list on the average PC, but only 24 percent of the vulnerabilities. This should serve as a reminder to us all to keep all the software on our PCs up to date, not just Windows itself.
Internet Explorer is a bad/insecure browser – Internet Explorer doesn’t get a lot of love from the more techy people among us. Most of the bad feelings go back to earlier versions, such as 6, 7 and 8. Internet Explorer 6 in particular was notorious for poor website compatibility, security issues and generally being a thorn in the side of every web developer. Things got slowly better over the years and the current versions of Internet Explorer are fast, standards compliant and among the most secure in the browser industry. Whichever browser you use, remember to keep it up to date as well as periodically check for updates to any plugins you use.
Tablets are better because they cannot get viruses – Sweeping statements like this often factor into peoples buying decisions, but the truth of the matter is a little more complicated.
Firstly, technically speaking any modern computing device capable of running multiple apps could get a virus. Platforms like iOS (found on the iPad) are extremely difficult to infect because of two factors. Firstly, applications can only be loaded onto an iPad via Apple’s own app store. Secondly, there are many restrictions on what apps can do on the iPad. No iOS app is allowed to change networking settings, for instance.
Windows 8 tablets have similar restrictions, though these only apply to modern or tile applications. Android tablets are more flexible with what is allowed and this has made them more vulnerable to malware. Attacks on Android devices are becoming much more commonplace and this is a trend that most security researches expect to continue.
It’s an unfortunate truth that there is always a trade off between security, convenience and flexibility. On Windows, anyone can write a program and distribute it through their website or any way they choose. The choice of software for the Windows desktop is far greater than is available on tablets because of this fact. This also means there are more vectors for malware to creep onto a Windows system, but for most users that’s a trade off they are willing to live with.
Windows experts always disable UAC – Since the dawn of Windows Vista there have been self-proclaimed Windows experts who think they know better than Microsoft. These experts will tell you that UAC is just for protecting novice users, and that expert users can safely disable it.
This is false. We talked above about how Microsoft improved security in Windows Vista by more effectively locking down the system. By completely disabling UAC, you revert your modern version of windows back to the same levels of security in Windows XP, which have proved woefully inadequate.
You should clean your computers registry – Even today there are many Windows users that advocate the use of registry cleaning software. We regularly get offers from software companies that want us to promote their registry cleaners. Our answer is always “no”, to find out why, see our article here.