So Where’s the Windows Only Label?

November 24th, 2008

So I was reading the latest issue of Time magazine, when I spied a flashy, somewhat cartoonish ad telling me that “You Need the Speed of Norton 2009.”

Do I?

Well, when I went to Symantec’s Web site to see just what this spectacular product was supposed to do, I found a link to the advertised free trial copy, but had to navigate through another screen or two before there was any information that this was strictly a Windows product.

Now this is not to say that Symantec doesn’t publish Mac security software. They actually have four Mac products available that, in combination, provide many of the features of their Windows applications. They have a long history building Mac products, and their they typically get pretty decent reviews. But, typical of a number of software developers, they do not distinguish the Mac from the Windows lineups in their ads.

Indeed, I can see where many Mac users might download that free trial software and never realize they were getting something they couldn’t use. Well, not unless Boot Camp or an operating system virtual machine, such as Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion, were available with recent Windows versions.

Now Symantec is not alone in being late to the party when it comes to fully comprehending the extent of the Mac’s resurgence. With reports that Macs took some 20% of the U.S. retail market last month, you can bet that any software company that supports Apple stands the chance of competing for a rapidly-growing market. This is particularly important at a time where PC sales, all told, are considered relatively flat.

Of course, when it comes to security software, the larger question is whether you need it at all, and the answer is probably still no, so long as you show some caution in the way you use your Mac. Although there have been some minor virus outbreaks and proofs of concept for Mac OS X, there hasn’t been a widespread infection on the Mac in a number of years, dating back to Mac OS 9.

True, some tech pundits tout that danger’s inevitability with lurid prose. It will come any day now, and soon Mac users won’t be able to boast that they are using a safer platform. Well, Mac OS X arrived in the spring of 2001 as a mainstream release (a public beta came out the previous fall). Now that we’re into the final part of 2008, that which was supposed to be inevitable seems to have been postponed yet again.

So what do I mean by caution?

Well, Apple just added phishing protection to Safari, and I recommend that all of you who use this browser get the upgrade, and that includes the Windows version. Although there are scattered reports of problems, they don’t appear to be widespread. The other major browsers, including Firefox and Opera, already include a similar feature.

The other key issue is just to be careful about the files you download, whether via your browser or from an email message. If you have a Windows user in your contact list, certainly show additional caution in forwarding any questionable messages to them. While your Mac might not be vulnerable to most any malware those messages might contain, it makes no sense to subject your colleagues and friends on that other platform. It doesn’t serve them right for using Windows; they may have no choice in their particular line of work.

It’s also true that there are ways to infect a Mac, with AppleScript and such, so you can’t be assured that the unexpected, unknown attachment isn’t going to bite your Mac if launched.

Now many email systems these days offer antivirus protection for no extra cost. Certainly the popular free systems, including Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo, do offer various levels of malware security on their email servers, as does Apple with MobileMe. It appears that the ISP I use, Cox, only offers a PC package of desktop security software from McAfee, but there’s no indication at all that a Mac version is available, nor that there’s any native malware scanning of their email.

If you have a home or business Web site, you will want to check with your hosting provider to see how they handle email. Some companies offer the service and some don’t, and there are far too many of these firms for me to even begin to single out any particular choice. Let me just say that all of our email is scanned for malware before it hits our mailboxes.

You also have to constantly be on the lookout for social engineering schemes to make you succumb to an Internet criminal. While browsers do offer phishing protection, no system of this sort can be perfect. So when you receive email saying you must click on a link to go to a company’s site, well, just be careful. Letters that purport to come from PayPal or another financial institution or bank should be doubly suspect. The usual gambit is to fool you into clicking on the embedded link, which takes you to a fake site that closely resemblances the genuine article. You’re asked to give your personal login information which, in turn, gives the criminal license to steal your money.

So even if the ad you see doesn’t bear a Windows only label, it doesn’t hurt, I suppose, to check what the offering is all about, and maybe feel pity that the company hasn’t discovered where the personal computer world is moving.

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2 Responses to “So Where’s the Windows Only Label?”

  1. Larry Prall says:

    Several years ago (must have been 2000 or earlier) I ordered a copy of PGP (then published by NAI) from one of the Mac mail order places (don’t remember which). When it arrived the shrink-wrapped box had no mention of Mac — only Windows. I checked with the firm that sold it to me and they told me to take it up with NAI, so I did.

    The first person I talked to told me that they would mail me a replacement. After a few weeks when I hadn’t seen anything I called back and spoke to someone else, who assured me that this time they would definitely send me a replacement. A few more weeks went by, and when I talked to yet another person I finally found someone who knew something. He promised me that he would send me a replacement CD, but that the one I had would work fine: the shrink-wrapped box which didn’t mention Mac or Apple anywhere had a CD that would install on either Windows or Mac. A few days later I got a replacement CD in the mail, and after installing it I finally opened the shrink-wrapped box and found that it did in fact contain the same CD.

    There’s a bit more to the story, but that can wait for another time…

  2. Robert MacLeay says:

    Been there, done that, cursed the vendors who, when challenged, just stare back at me with a blank expression on their faces. “But it works on all computers.” (Computers run Windows? Windows is a part of computers!)

    Not to let Symantec’s competitors off the hook, try McAfee. Go to their Mac antivirus page
    and click on that big button marked “Think you have a virus? Try our free scanning tool…”

    Stupid, stupid, stupid.

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