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Are You Taking Too Much for Granted?

The other day I read the results of a study concluding that people were receiving more email spam, but have grown more accustomed to the scourge of the Internet. After getting those annoying offers for sexual enhancements, questionable penny stocks and so forth and so on, many simply consider it the price you pay for being online.

Just how do you cope with such things? Do you just delete the offensive messages, or hope your email app’s spam filter will catch all or most of it?

I take a rather more obsessive/compulsive approach, which is to constantly fine-tune the spam filtering provided by our email hosting service. These days, it has gotten so good that I only see a single junk message or two a day in my Inbox. At the same time, very few good messages — messages I want to read — are mistakenly flagged as junk each week.

Of course, if you do business on the Internet, a single message mistakenly diverted to the spam folder can cost you business. I paid that price a few years ago, when a client made a change in a product they were ordering from me, and I failed to catch it in time. I lost the sale, and I learned then and there to carefully comb that folder to make sure that I suffered no further financial impact from the imperfections of spam filtering technology.

The question, however, is whether I choose to accept that as the price of dealing with Internet hazards, and the answer is an emphatic no!

At the same time, I know that perfection is impossible. Coping with junk mail is a cat and mouse game. As soon as spam filtering technology is updated to capture new categories of junk, the spammers come back and find a way to get their filth through the locked doors. Alas, sending mass mailings is cheap, and they only need a small number of actual orders to make a huge profit. Yes, some of you out there are buying products and services advertised with junk mail. No wonder it just gets worse and worse.

This particular problem, of course, affects users of all personal computing platforms. The same isn’t necessarily true for computer viruses.

Sure, as this week’s Apple Security Update demonstrates, Mac OS X is imperfect, and the security leaks that have been discovered must be plugged. We’re probably just lucky that none have been exploited yet.

On the Windows platform, however, getting a virus is considered by some PC users as perfectly normal. The other day, one of the members of our message boards for The Paracast radio show blamed himself for failing to update his virus prevention software after his PC was infected. To him, the Internet criminals weren’t at fault. He should have made sure that all the necessary updates were installed, so he wouldn’t have to confront the consequences.

In other words, this particular PC user — and lots of others I gather — regards malware protection as just a normal consequence of personal computing. You lock your doors at night, sometimes with extra locks and a burglar alarm, to keep the criminals out. So it stands to reason that the PC that connects to the outside world, courtesy of the Internet, must be similarly protected.

But is that something PC users must accept in the same fashion that we are forced to put up with spam?

Surely our tolerance levels aren’t so low that good cannot be achieved and bad must be tolerated. Yes, I realize the human spirit is incredibly robust, and many of you can handle all sorts of adversities without breaking a sweat. However, you deserve better.

Now I have nothing against the companies that build Windows PCs. They are just trying to sell products to make a profit, satisfy their investors and provide employment for their staff. That’s perfectly acceptable, although corporations get a nasty reputation these days.

In fact, I don’t have anything against Microsoft, although I criticize their business practices from time to time. Most of the Microsoft people I know are kind and gracious and they are probably pillars of their communities. But Microsoft made a serious mistake years ago when they failed to take into account the fact that PCs would one day no longer operate as standalone machines, but would network with other computers in the office and around the world.

Billions of dollars are lost every single year because of that mistake, which made Windows the low-hanging fruit that could be taken advantage of so easily. Sure, Microsoft has apparently beefed up security with Windows Vista, but is it a case of plugging two holes with four holes opening to replace them?

Sure, nothing is perfect, and it’s clear there will be malware on the Mac one of these days. But you shouldn’t accept a bad situation as normal when there are better alternatives. And if what you have is the best you can get — or the best you think you can get — that shouldn’t force you to lower your standards and accept inferior performance as a given. The empowerment of the Mac is based on the premise that you can always do better.