In one of this cute and funny Mac versus PC ads, which are sadly no longer being produced, the Mac personification, as portrayed by actor Justin Long, reminded the PC (as portrayed by John Hodgman), that there are over 100,000 Windows viruses, but not on the Mac.
Now this particular phrase became controversial, because you could take away different interpretations. Did he mean that the Mac simply didn’t have over 100,000 viruses, or that it had no viruses? If the latter, Apple’s ad agency was giving out erroneous information. Even though the number of Mac OS X viruses are small, there have been some, although there’s no evidence of any widespread outbreak.
At least not yet!
Therein lies the issue. The Mac OS X Public Beta came out over a decade ago. As the Mac platform has become more popular over the years, security experts, and representatives from security software companies, have reminded us again and again that serious malware outbreaks will come real soon now. Maybe so, but that largely depends on your definition of what “soon” really means.
- The Night Owl Revisits Mac Malware Protection It all started for me back in 1989. I bought some software from a local computer shop in Edison, New Jersey known as Egghead Software. The possibility of a virus didn't occur to me. That was a problem others confronted; it rarely happened on Macs. But things went bad real fast, and I soon realized that, yes, my brand new Mac IIcx system, which, with laser printer and display, cost me more than a fully decked out Mac Pro in 2015, had been infected so badly that I had to erase the drive and restore all my apps. How did it happen? Well, evidently one of the apps I bought, which came from Fifth Generation Systems, a well-known publisher, had somehow been infected, perhaps during the production process. In passing, that company was sold to a well-known security software publisher, Symantec, in 1993. And you can bet that I installed anti-virus software on my Mac then and there. Unfortunately, such apps don't always get along with a Mac or a PC. The active scanning feature, which constantly monitors your system for possibly suspicious activities, plus any new files you download or install, usually put a severe drag on your computer's performance. In those days, apps could take as much as twice as long to launch. Even with far more powerful processors, and loads more RAM, security software continues to consume too many resources. Is the tradeoff worth it? On a Windows PC, yes it is. Compared to the Mac, well over a million viruses are listed on the Windows platform, though most of these are not widely circulated. Thank goodness! On a Mac, malware has been rare since OS X arrived with its secure Unix underpinnings. But that doesn't mean there aren't problems from time to time. Most these days manifest themselves as a Trojan Horse, meaning they pretend to do something good while deploying an evil payload. They don't just show up either. You receive an email with an enticing offer, or visit a site where you are promised useful information. Either way, by clicking to launch the infected payload, you might find yourself in trouble. How bad is it on the Mac? Well back in 2012, the Flashback virus, infecting Java, may have impacted several hundred thousand Mac users according to one estimate. But even if that estimate was overly optimistic, it was allowed to do its thing for far too long before Apple got around to overhauling the Java delivery mechanism. Meantime, security publishers quickly patched their virus definitions to handle the situation. So does that mean you should install a security app on your Mac? I have been hit or miss about it because of the performance hit. But now one of the major security software companies, Bitdefender, promises that their latest version of Antivirus for Mac is not intrusive and that it barely slows down the system. They've even posted a chart showing a performance impact in the low single digits, which definitely shouldn't be noticeable. This is particularly important as the number of potential Mac malware outbreaks appears to be on the rise. I won't say the sky is falling, but if you want to get the extra ounce of protection, you'll be far more comforted knowing that the app isn't going to have a negative impact on how your Mac operates. The folks at Bitdefender, who recently began advertising on my radio show, tell me that they also scored 100% detection in Mac and Windows malware from AV-TEST, which evaluates the efficacy of security software. That's good to know, since other Mac security apps didn't score quite as well. Now I don't want to go out on the limb and evaluate an untested product, and I rarely observe review guides. Instead, I downloaded Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac, a quick download, and a quick install. No restart required. I entered the product serial number, and promptly forgot about it until, this past weekend, I got a Bitdefender prompt about one of my emails being infected by a Trojan Horse. Bit defender was doing its thing in the background without impacting how my Mac worked in any way. My late 2009 iMac, recently outfitted with an SSD, continued to run normally. So, yes, Bitdefender's claim of being nonintrusive appears to be right on. What's particularly attractive about the app is its minimalist interface. There aren't a whole lot of options, the most significant one being whether to turn off active scanning. You can also add web protection using browser extensions for such apps as Safari, Firefox and Google Chrome. As with most antivirus apps, Bitdefender updates its definitions in the background as needed. Bitdefender's bill of materials includes protection from viruses, spyware, Trojan Horses, key loggers, worms and adware. That appears to cover the full range. To get your attention, the folks at Bitfender are engaging in a new social-network-oriented ad campaign. All you have to do to enter is take a selfie of you hugging your Mac, post it on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and give it the hashtag #hugamac." I'm serious folks. That hashtag will get you entered in a contest where you can win a MacBook Air. You can also sign up at Bitdefender's site to receive a free six-month license for Antivirus for Mac. If you like the app, it's $59.99 for a one-year license that supports up to three Macx. An additional $20 adds PC coverage. You can find out more about the "#hugamac" campaign from the company's special promotional page. There's nothing to lose for a few minute's effort with your iPhone, and once you install the app using that free trial and try it for a while, you might even like it. As you know, I've been skeptical of the need for security software on your Mac. While I'm in favor of an extra ounce of protection, the speed and stability hit of most of these apps has been a matter of serious concern. But the folks at Bitdefender appear to have broken through with a Mac solution that you won't be aware of — until you need it.
- About Mac Malware Threats When the Flashback trojan horse outbreak occurred in 2011, an estimated 600,000 Macs were infected, a frightening development for those who felt the platform was pretty safe and secure. A Java virus, Apple received lots of criticism for not releasing a fix promptly. At the same time, those who felt that Mac malware would intensify no doubt felt vindicated by the circumstances, although this was not the sort of exploit that caused serious harm; in other words, your data wasn't in danger of being corrupted, though that sort of infection could have done some serious damage if the hackers took that approach. It was also easily removed by apps that were released by Apple and others. Now even though you hear about security vulnerabilities of Mac OS X and the Safari browser from time to time, it's not as if there's an epidemic of outbreaks. Most have been small, confined to a tiny portion of users. Apple also periodically issues security fixes for recent versions of OS X that are designed to close the holes before they can be exploited. But Flashback didn't represent a shortcoming in OS X. It was all about Java, a cross-platform development system currently published by Oracle. But until things changed, Apple had the responsibility to maintain Java on the Mac platform, and issue security updates as needed. Indeed, Flashback took advantage of loopholes with the Java plugin used for some apps, such as chat rooms, which run through a browser such as Safari. One step Apple took to reduce such problems was to disable the plugin, though you can enable it if you wish. Oracle has also taken over maintenance of Java, so if there's a vulnerability that needs to be fixed, it's their responsibility. Now the dream of Java was to have cross-platform apps, apps that would run on Macs, Windows PCs and even Linux boxes. Some are still around, but not so many. Most Mac users can exist perfectly well if Java wasn't present on their computers. If you need it, it can be installed the first time a Java-enabled app is run, which delivers a prompt from OS X to that effect. That works for me. As to the Flashback trojan horse, according to Intego, a publisher of Mac security software, "Intego purchased some of the command and control server domain names to monitor the Flashback threat that infected hundreds of thousands of Macs. It studied those domains, recording all connections from Macs where Flashback is still active and trying to contact the C&C servers. After recording for five days, it counted at least 22,000 infected machines." All right, so it's still around, but, as I said, if your Mac has the latest version of Java, and you keep up with OS X updates, your not susceptible to the infection. If you can avoid anything that requires Java, you won't have to worry. The larger issue, however, is whether, after more than 12 years of OS X, you need to install security software on your Mac to stay safe. Every time there's a minor outbreak, you can bet some tech pundits will say, yes, it's time to take that precaution because things will inevitably get worse. Obviously the publisher of security software is only too happy to sell you their apps. But, other than Flashback, has there been any reason at all to consider such protection? You see, with Flashback and other trojan horses, they rely on social engineering. It's all about convincing you to download someone's app or sign up for their services, in order to open up your Mac to a possible infection. If you are careful about the sites you visit, the email links that require a click, and certainly what you download, you're probably going to be safe. My personal experience with Mac malware has been fairly limited, and not very recent. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I encountered a few. Indeed, I once bought a commercial app for my Mac and, upon loading that app, it caused a serious infection that required rebuilding my system. This was before I understood the need to backup, but my critical documents were kept on floppies, so I didn't lose anything other than time. Somewhat later, when I was employed at a prepress service in New York City, we received a bunch of floppies from clients infected with what were known as desktop viruses. Annoying, yes, but they didn't actually cause you to lose your data or, it seems, damage your apps, OS or your documents. From time to time, I still receive emails from readers and listeners that have encountered problems with their Macs and wonder about virus infections. But most of what they hear about such threats is the result of exploits on the Windows platform. I have yet to actually hear from a Mac user, in recent years, who has been infected by malware of any kind. Not that it doesn't happen, and not that the risk isn't there. But it's not commonplace. At the same time, some of you will install security software either because your office requires it or you just want to feel safe. Some of these apps also protect against Windows malware, so you aren't in any danger of passing on something nasty to a PC user. There's no harm in having an added ounce of protection, but try app demos first to see what works best. Some security software, the result of background scanning, may slow down your Mac, particularly when opening apps or documents.
- About the Next Mac Pro After a drought of several years, Apple is reportedly posed to launch a major upgrade for the Mac Pro workstation. While the increasingly powerful iMac has become a worthy substitute for many content creators, some still crave the higher math and 3D rendering power and expandability of the traditional tower configuration. Unfortunately, Apple placed the Mac Pro on the back-burner for several years. Since moving to Intel processors in 2006, the updates have been relatively minor, involving processors, graphic cards and hard drives. Most of the changes, therefore, have been simple component upgrades based on current technology. But Apple hasn't even kept up with Intel's most powerful Xeon processors of late. Last year's refresh was so minor as to go almost unnoticed, and it made very little difference in terms of the actual performance of the workstation. Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 were not in evidence. However, both Tim Cook and Apple PR have confirmed the arrival of a significant Mac Pro upgrade this year, but the substance behind that claim is still murky. It wouldn't involve a huge amount of development costs to simply take the present overweight box and stuff it with new guts and peripheral ports, and the latest and greatest processing and graphics hardware. There could even be an enhanced set of SSD customization options along with the Fusion drive that debuted in the iMac and Mac mini. One published report suggests a more minimalist approach by Apple, and the end result would be something along the lines of what Macworld Senior Editor Dan Frakes and I have separately written about, which is a more affordable and smaller form factor with reduced expansion options. But the configuration I've read about won't win Apple any brownie points with computing professionals. The report, clearly not confirmed by Apple, speaks of a smaller Mac Pro with no internal expansion options whatever. There would be two graphics processors, to handle multiple displays. This alleged 2013 Mac Pro, or whatever Apple chooses to call it, would still contain the latest Intel Xeon chips, and enough slots for plenty of RAM. If you want to add extra drives or other peripherals, you'd use the Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 ports. Optical drives? In keeping with most of the rest of the Mac lineup, they'd be history, unless you want to buy one of Apple's external USB-based DVD drives or someone else's. Now I expect that loyal Mac Pro users would be howling if Apple came up with a solution of that sort. Why no expansion options beyond RAM? I suppose Apple could argue that Thunderbolt is a worthy alternative, although it's hardly suitable if you care to transport your Mac Pro from location to location. Why have to bring a bunch of extra gear with you? Besides, there are, so far, a paltry number of Thunderbird accessories. The reason isn't important, but it makes it doubly inconvenient for a professional Mac user who needs to expand the computer beyond the basic configuration. Sure, most Mac users do not upgrade their computers beyond a RAM upgrade -- and that's become less possible as more and more Macs have memory soldered to the logic board -- but content creators have traditionally required flexible upgrade options. How does Apple serve their needs? One admittedly non-existent possibility is that the new Mac Pro won't replace the current model, but will coexist as a less-expensive alternative. Call it a Mac Pro mini. The existing model would receive refreshed components, and Apple would, over time, evaluate sales and see whether external expandability matters anymore. But it's not that Apple ever listens to me. It's a sure thing that Apple wants to move PC technology forward, in this twilight of the era. So it may well be that there will be a more minimalist Mac Pro in our future. But the computer that Dan Frakes and I envisioned was probably more in the form of a headless iMac, taking the guts of the iMac, and dispensing with the display. Perhaps a progenitor to this type of Mac is the IIci from the late 1980s and early 1990s. But the world has changed. Of course, a commentary of this sort will have an extremely short shelf life, coming less than a week before Apple is expected to unleash new versions of iOS and OS X, and some brand new Mac hardware. Some of that hardware will amount to mere refreshes of current models to take advantage of Intel's new Haswell chips. There may be more significant changes, such as the rumors of a slimmed down 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. But content creators have been hoping and dreaming for a new Mac Pro, one that will provide the power and expandability on which they've come to depend. Time will tell how well Apple will meet those hopes and dreams, and they probably shouldn't get their hopes too high.
- Office for iPad: Free — Sort of! As most of you know, Microsoft is not nearly as flexible or successful as Apple in keeping secrets. Sure, news about an upcoming Apple gadget will usually leak from the supply chain, but software releases tend to get a higher level of protection from the teeming masses of tech journalists and financial analysts. Of course, secrets encourage the media to just make things up, using their perceptions about Apple as a basis for guessing what they're working on. With Microsoft, rumors about a forthcoming Office for iPad release have come and gone and come again. Some of the stories suggest the software has been ready for several years, awaiting approval from the executive team for release. But former CEO Steve Ballmer reportedly opposed the move. In addition, there was a huge detour: With the arrival of the Surface tablet, Microsoft touted the presence of Office on both the ARM-based RT and Intel based Pro versions as an advantage over other tablets. This supposed advance, such as it was, wasn't quite what it seemed to be. You see, there is still no version of Office that's compliant with the Modern or Metro UI. It's basically just the same old Office 2013 release for desktop PCs that's running from the desktop layer. Regardless, people aren't buying. The Surface tablet has been one huge failure for Microsoft, and the Office advantage was no advantage at all. Some estimates claim that Microsoft is losing out on billions of dollars in potential revenue by not delivering an iPad version. Well, it appears Microsoft's new CEO, Satya Nadella, has provided a dose of sanity. In a special media event in San Francisco, Microsoft announced Office for the iPad. Indeed, Windows 8, considered a disaster for the company, wasn't even on the agenda, and that clearly sends a strong message about the company's future direction. The iPad app suite is available in a sort of freemium arrangement. You can download a copy the iPad versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint free from the App Store and open and view documents. If you want to actually create and edit documents, you need to subscribe to Office 365. Pricing depends on the package that best meets your needs, but the Home version is $9.99 a month, and includes support for up to five Macs and PCs and a single tablet. Of course, if you already have an Office 365 license, the unlocked iPad version is free. Whether Microsoft earns more revenue from this product largely depends on how many additional signups the iPad version generates. Unlike Adobe, you can still buy retail copies of Microsoft's traditional Mac and PC apps. You aren't forced to subscribe to the cloud-based account. Certainly the decision to release Office for the iPad couldn't come at a better time. PC sales are down and Microsoft's efforts to go mobile have been largely stillborn. Even the purchase of the failed handset division of Nokia isn't expected to change the situation. Consider what happened when Google bought another failing handset company, Motorola Mobility, and you'll see what I mean. Meantime, Office for the iPad is already garnering favorable reviews. The ZDNet division of CNET says the suite "sets the gold standard for tablet productivity." That's high praise, because there are already a number of office-style app suites on iOS and Android. The standard bearer is Apple's iWork, which offers essentially the same feature set on the Mac, iOS and cloud-based versions. What this means is that, if you have an iCloud account and use a Windows PC, you can still use iWork and share your documents with users on the other platforms. It's also free with a new Apple gadget, which may be the most compelling sales pitch of all. So why should anyone who isn't already an Office 365 subscriber take the plunge just to be able to take advantage of the full feature set of Office for the iPad? Is it really that good? Here Microsoft may have miscalculated by assuming that iPad users already have a Mac or a PC, and thus the iPad represents just another device. But more and more people rely on an iPad as their primary personal computer, and they are going to be decidedly reluctant to pay $100 a year forever to get a fully-enabled copy of Office. Remember, iWork is free. Does Office's enhanced feature set and superior compatibility with the Mac and Windows versions deserve a higher standalone price? Time will tell. As most of you know, Microsoft has had a mixed reputation with Mac apps. While paying lip service to Mac interface conventions, even such features as Auto Save and Versions have yet to be supported. When you work in an Office app, you sometimes think you're really using something actually meant for Windows, but clumsily ported to the Mac platform. The document windows may seem Mac-like, but the features carry the awkwardness of Windows. But when it comes to tablets, Microsoft is in a new world. There is no Windows equivalent, and thus Microsoft had to rely on Apple's development tools to build the product. For the most part, it seems successful at first blush. So Microsoft claims that Office for the iPad was built from the ground up. From the look and the feel, it does seem a clever adaptation of Office conventions slimmed down and styled for tablet use. Most of the reviews talk of a fast and fluid user experience, though some of the more obscure features found even in Office for the Mac won't be supported, though that probably doesn't matter. What's more, there appears to be decent cloud integration, meaning you can pick up where you left off on an Office document from another platform and continue your work on your iPad. Microsoft's target audience is no doubt the business world, which has embraced the iPad with a passion. This is where Microsoft is apt to gain a number of users, but if these companies already have Office 365 licenses, it won't matter. If they haven't embraced the cloud yet, there could be a sizable rate of customer conquests. I'm sure Microsoft's marketing people have been busy crunching the numbers and considering the possibilities. What's important for Microsoft is the user license. Surface has done nothing for them, and if Apple can deliver substantial new revenues to its sometimes rival, that works to the advantage of both. Meanwhile, the Office for iPad apps quickly rose to the top of the charts at the App Store. Let's see how it stands once the early adopters have their copies, and how that impacts the Office 365 signup rate. If Office for the iPad does well, will that speed up development of Office 2014 for the Mac? I suppose we'll know soon.
- Revisiting Professional Macs While I still run into people from time to time who believe that Macs are sophisticated consumer computers and not suited for professional work, I'm sure most of you know that isn't correct. But I do understand the point of view. Regardless, over the years, it was generally assumed that an all-in-one Mac was useful for small business or consumers, while a Mac tower was the work machine that the content creators craved. That, however, changed in late 2009, when a new lineup of iMacs came out with quad-core processors, reasonably speedy graphics, and expansive hard drives. As development of the Mac Pro appeared to have slowed, a tricked out iMac, customized with extra RAM and the more powerful processor and graphics chips offered by Apple, actually met or exceeded many Mac Pro benchmarks. Yes, I understand that having extra processor cores counts in some apps, but not in most. For a while Mac Pro users probably felt that Apple had given up on personal computing workstations and would, instead, focus on computers with more mass appeal. I know that I sold a Mac Pro and display and bought customized iMac and had enough change left over for a backup drive, and an AppleCare extended warranty. After Tim Cook promised a great Mac Pro upgrade in 2013, there was a lot of anticipation and suggestions on how Apple might change the form factor, assuming there was going to be much of a change. The fashionably small black cylinder without much external expansion probably came as a surprise to many, although it may make sense for some that didn't find the internal expansion to be sufficient. No matter. It appears the Mac Pro has taken off quite nicely, still backordered for several weeks on even the two standard configurations. Either Apple has problems turning them out at a USA factory, or demand was more than anticipated. Indeed, the Mac Pro puts the lie to the claim that Macs are overpriced toys. From the standard configurations to the fully decked out customized versions, a Mac Pro is actually cheaper than comparable Windows hardware, sometimes to the tune of several thousand dollars. But this is nothing really new. From time to time over the years, I did some cost comparisons between a Mac Pro and a Windows workstation with similar specs, and the Mac was almost always cheaper. It's a fact not widely mentioned, but it was true at least for the comparisons I ran. That Mac Pro is competitively priced doesn't change a significant fact, which is that it's still quite expensive, and it may not always be possible to justify that expense. Indeed, when the benchmarks are performed, it's quite clear that an iMac delivers competitive performance for most apps. There may be flexibilities in the external expansion offered in a Mac Pro that will still make it more desirable for some uses even before you consider the potential advantage of the extra processor cores. But if you examine Mac performance up and down the line, you'll see that most any model is capable of terrific performance, even a Mac mini. For serious business use, an iMac is a powerful beast, and should be taken seriously. When it comes to such chores as 4K video editing, particularly in the latest Final Cut Pro X, 3D rendering, mathematics and similar processor intensive chores that do make effective use of up to 12 processor cores, the Mac Pro remains unbeatable. But the intended audience is far smaller than it used to be, although clearly sufficient to justify production of a flagship model. Yes, I grant that Apple is perceived as focusing far more on well-heeled consumers these days than on creative professionals. It's also true that some of those creative professionals deserted the Mac because of the time it took to deliver a credible Mac Pro upgrade, and the fact that the original release of Final Cut Pro X lacked some important features video editors required. When it comes to Final Cut Pro X, I regard that as an Apple marketing screw-up pure and simple. Sure, it's not unusual for Apple to release an all-new app that is missing features at first. That happened with an iMovie release, and more recently with the "free" edition of iWork. Apple's usual response — or excuse — is that some features dropped are in the initial release of an all-new version, but they will be added back later. Certainly that process has already begun with iWork. Each update has a slew of new features, some of which restore capabilities that were dropped with the initial release. Yes, it makes sense, but Apple should have spelled this out very clearly on the day Final Cut Pro X came out, and immediately dropping sale of the previous version only conveyed the impression that the professional market was being abandoned in order to focus on prosumers. But that wasn't quite true, as most of those lost features have been returned, and, particularly when it runs on a Mac Pro, Final Cut Pro X has become a terrific tool for editing 4K video. It's not just a plaything for consumers with lots of money to burn. For me, the Mac Pro is in the rear-view mirror. The iMac does all that I need with the level of performance I expect. But that's not true for everyone, which explains why demand for the latest and greatest Mac Pro remains high.
This article was posted on Monday, January 3rd, 2011 at 12:00 AM and is filed under News and tagged with: Computer Virus, Get a Mac, John Hodgman, Justin Long, Mac, Mac Os, Mac Os X, Mac versus PC, Macintosh, Malware, Security Software, Windows.