Getting Hijacked Running Windows

I spent several hours in Brooklyn earlier today working with my son on his thesis, one of the requirements for completing his rabbinical studies at Hebrew Union College / Jewish Institute of Religion. The work is his. I just went to type up his thoughts as he dictated them to me.

Soon after we started work, he mentioned that was having problems with his router, a Linksys WRT54GL that I had bought for him. I chose this model as I knew it was a solid device. Though he uses the factory-supplied software, I know that it can be configured to run Linux, and that is how I run my WRT54GL router. I have found it solid as rock in this regard. It replaced a Microsoft-built router that caused me quite a bit of grief, as it seemed unable to maintain a connection for more than an hour, and thus required frequent rebooting.

He had lost the little piece of paper on which I had written the root password for the Linksys router, so I first went to the Linksys site to learn how to reset the router to the factory default settings, and then I reinstalled the router. All that part went quite well.

Then I rebooted Windows XP from scratch to confirm that all was in good working order. The following events then occurred.

Yahoo Instant Messenger announced itself, and opened up two or three windows to make me sure I knew it was at hand. I tried to close it, but it said it wasn’t really going to go away, but would silently sit on the Windows Task bar, ready to be revived.

Then AOL Instant Messenger announced itself, and I went through a similar process.

Then Microsoft Instant Messenger announced itself, and I went through the now increasingly-tiresome process of getting it out of the way.

Then the control program for the Microsoft web camera I had given him opened up a window or two to let me know it was ready to be used, and I had to close that Window.

And I am sure that while all this was going on, his copy of Adobe Acrobat was phoning home to check for updates, as was Windows itself, probably all the instant messaging programs, and I would venture that the software that controlled the Logitech Mouse also checked in to see if Logitech had finally figured out how to control an optical mouse.

In brief, I spent almost five minutes just closing all these annoying windows before I could even try to see if the router was working! I then realized that his machine had been hijacked by all these programs that insist on being run whenever the machine is started up afresh.

And, by the way, the ZoneAlarm software I had been forced to buy for a cost of about fifty dollars per year because Microsoft still hasn’t figured out how to write a good firewall, fight spam, and so forth, required that I confirm it was ok to run all these update programs.

When I run Ubuntu the machine just comes up. If there are updates, then I get a brief announcement that updates are available, and I am given the option of installing them. If I go ahead, then ALL the programs that need updating are updated. I DO NOT have to deal with each software vendor’s update process.

This is one of the reasons I so love Linux. It does what you want it to do, providing help when needed with minimal fuss. It does not require that you sit by while each vendor checks in its own particular way to see if its software must be updated.

At least I was running Windows XP, a system that does run, though daily checks for bandaids are required.

I don’t even want to know what would happen were he to run Vista. Indeed, I told two of my three children to buy new laptops last summer while Windows XP was still available, as I had heard so many bad reports about Vista. The other child bought an emachine for $400 with 512MB of memory, running Windows Home Vista. During a visit I noticed that it took from ten to twenty seconds just to load a web page, on a machine with a cable router and not a machine using a phone line. I then had to spend close to $100 to get enough memory so the machine would perform satisfactorily, increasing the cost of the machine by 25 per cent.

Sigh. At least the others got Windows XP while it was still available, even if each of them had to spend several hundred dollars to do so (and Dad wound up paying part of that).

The most amazing part is not that the commercial software is so bad, but that so many people don’t appreciate just how bad it is. Then again, few people know that not only is free and open-source software often much better than the commercial counterparts, it can be had at no cost.

However, this does provide strong motivation to promote the use of open technologies such as open-source to show people that quality software is available.

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