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The iPod Virus: Did Apple Say the Wrong Thing?

Decades ago, President Truman said that the buck stops here, and this is something you can take to the bank when it comes to a responsible politician, few though they may be, and, of course, the corporate executive. Or at least, that’s the way it should be.

So when the news came that a small number of new iPods shipped with a Windows virus, questions quickly arose about whether it was some sort of secret plot from Apple to embarrass Microsoft or just an accident, a mistake on the part of one of its contract manufacturers.

The facts are fairly simple, and here’s Apple’s official statement on the subject: “We recently discovered that a small number — less than 1% — of the Video iPods available for purchase after September 12, 2006, left our contract manufacturer carrying the Windows RavMonE.exe virus. This known virus affects only Windows computers, and up to date anti-virus software which is included with most Windows computers should detect and remove it. So far we have seen less than 25 reports concerning this problem. The iPod nano, iPod shuffle and Mac OS X are not affected, and all Video iPods now shipping are virus free. As you might imagine, we are upset at Windows for not being more hardy against such viruses, and even more upset with ourselves for not catching it.”

Naturally, Microsoft was none too happy with that little dig about Windows’ susceptibility to viruses. Microsoft’s Jonathan Poon, who is responsible for scanning Microsoft products for viruses before they ship, said in a blog entry: “It’s not a matter of which platform that the virus originated. The fact that it’s found on the portable player means that there’s an issue with how the quality checks, specifically the content check was done. This also indicates that through the manufacturing cycle, the base device from which the image was duplicated to the other devices in the manufacturing run, was connected to a PC that most probably did not have , and I quote their press release, ‘up to date anti-virus software which is included with most Windows computers.’ ”

Well, you had to expect that Microsoft wouldn’t take that crack lightly. However, it does seem to me that Apple did do due diligence in letting you know about the problem, and in providing information on how to rid the affected products of the problem. They even posted links to trial versions of virus software that could be used to clean any infected computers, after which users are asked to use iTunes 7 to restore the affected iPods to pristine condition.

One might think that would be quite enough to resolve the issue, particularly since RavMonE.exe is one of the less virulent Windows viruses. More important, Windows users don’t need Apple Computer to tell them to use software to protect themselves against malware. That should be a standard requirement.

However, some tech writers have gone off the deep end and suggested that Apple could have done more, and isn’t addressing the issue in a sufficiently serious fashion. I suppose that crack about Windows incited the right to excess.

While you might say with some justification that it shouldn’t have happened in the first place, mistakes do happen. No doubt, Apple has taken measures to make sure the companies that build iPods and any other cross-platform products in the pipeline do a better job next time. It doesn’t matter what those measures might be, so long is the episode isn’t repeated any time soon.

It’s also true that word has spread far and wide about the problem, so Windows users have been appropriately warned. Other than telling customers about running virus protection software and cleaning their iPods via the restore function, what else should Apple do? Should they offer to replace the infected iPods, or do the scanning for you in person?

I suppose replacing the iPods, although the defect is easily removed, is at the discretion of the dealer. Some might do it, others might even be nice enough to do the virus scanning for you, and I’m thinking of the Apple Store, perhaps, and local retailers that have a commitment to customer service.

Beyond that, let’s not attach too much significance to any of this, although it gave some of the more emotional Windows advocates a chance to vent their spleens about a phrase they didn’t like. Now they can go and get their lives back.