Well, I received a telephone call last week from someone with problems with Outlook Express. They told me that the program was sending multiple copies of e-mails and they thought they had a virus. The actual problem was that OE had stopped moving messages from the Outbox to the Sent Items folder after they were sent, thus fooling the program into thinking the messages hadn't been sent.

This led me to wonder: "Hmm, I wonder how similar Windows is to a virus?" From this idle musing, I have compiled the following conclusions.

ESR's The Jargon File describes a computer virus as follows: "A cracker program that searches out other programs and 'infects' them by embedding a copy of itself in them, so that they become Trojan horses. When these programs are executed, the embedded virus is executed too, thus propagating the 'infection'. This normally happens invisibly to the user. Unlike a worm, a virus cannot infect other computers without assistance. It is propagated by vectors such as humans trading programs with their friends (see SEX). The virus may do nothing but propagate itself and then allow the program to run normally. Usually, however, after propagating silently for a while, it starts doing things like writing cute messages on the terminal or playing strange tricks with the display (some viruses include nice display hacks). Many nasty viruses, written by particularly perversely minded crackers, do irreversible damage, like nuking all the user's files."

Let us analyse this description with particular reference to the Redmond OS.

A cracker program that searches out other programs and 'infects' them by embedding a copy of itself in them, so that they become Trojan horses.

In fairness to Mr. Gates, Windows doesn't make copies of itself in other programs. However, through schemes such as msdn, Gates has created a generation of developers who depend on Windows. So, to use some of the most popular software in the world, one must run Windows. This makes all of the world's best-loved software Trojan horses.

When these programs are executed, the embedded virus is executed too, thus propagating the 'infection'.

What is needed here is a change of perspective. One opens Windows not to use Windows, but to use the applications which depend on it. So, one is, in effect, executing a program along with the virus which is inextricably tied to it.

Unlike a worm, a virus cannot infect other computers without assistance. It is propagated by vectors such as humans trading programs with their friends (see SEX).

"Say, Bob, wanna try out this neat new program? You can share music files with other people over the Internet!

"Okay, cool! I'll put that on my Solaris box tonight!"

"Err...It's a Windows program."

"Okay, this program sounds too cool to miss out on, I'll install Windows tonight!"

The virus may do nothing but propagate itself and then allow the program to run normally. Usually, however, after propagating silently for a while, it starts doing things like writing cute messages on the terminal or playing strange tricks with the display (some viruses include nice display hacks).

cf. Windows for the first month or so of use. All your programs run as they should, but you get cute messages like 'Setup is updating your configuration files. Please wait...' or 'It is now safe to turn off your computer' or 'Kernel32 caused a General Protection Fault in module bla bla bla'.

Many nasty viruses, written by particularly perversely minded crackers, do irreversible damage, like nuking all the user's files.

'Out of memory error: please close one or more programs and try again.' 'Windows was not properly shut down. Press any key to run Scandisk on your drives.'

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