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The Good Virus???

I think there's actually a positive note to take from the recent (August 2003) Blaster virus. [It caused countless thousands of computers to reboot and threatened to bombard Microsoft's "Windows Update" website with spurious requests, ostensibly hoping to shut it down. For a nice technical page on what it was programmed to do, see]

Despite the enormous potential damage that could have been done, the author chose to make the virus do nothing but an incredibly powerful demonstration... that someone could run the ultimate system-level command—shutdown—on my computer. As for the denial of service attack, I don't know what damage might have occurred from that.

My point isn't to quibble over what constitutes "damage" but to say that I feel the greater evil is the flaw in the operating system, not the recent perpetrator. For most of us, myself included, the knee-jerk reaction is to regard the author as some kind of monster, but if you think about it he or she proved to be quite the opposite. In the long run they will probably have helped protect us all from much worse people, hopefully with little harm done. Imagine if those who truly hate us were as smart. I, for one, say thank you.

As for usability, there are some lessons to learn. Bearing in mind Bellis's First Law of Usability (from Resources/"Computers Stink")...

For every computer problem, even hardware problems, there is a corresponding improvement waiting to be done to the design of the software or user interface. It is not your fault... the problem is not ‘user error!

... I see two usability flaws highlighted by the recent virus:

  1. My longstanding assertion that Windows' Task Manager/Processes list (not the Apps list) should display the Manufacturer and Program for every process. This would let me kill processes that I don't believe I started.
  2. The existence of the Windows Registry. There's no solution for this other than competition and we know what's happened to that. For those who aren't aware, the Windows Registry, although it purports to help provide an integrated, well-managed system (ala Macintosh), is really a means to keep control of our computers out of our hands. That's the reality, whether you like my politics or not. It may be what puts Linux over the top soon.

So take heart, all is not evil in the world, even people smart enough to write viruses are not necessarily villains. And no, it's not me; I'm still trying to figure out how to get Windows not to change from "Explore" mode to folder mode every time I search for a file.


"My interest in usability arose from the pain and tears of patching the wounds of suffering interface designs with the inadequate bandages of help files and user guides." — Daniel Cohen

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