The Apple Mac is back: Mac OS X vs. Windows-based computers

“Just a few years ago, the Apple Mac looked dead in the water. With a tiny market share, problems involving compatibility with other computers, and overly expensive kit, the company was kept alive by a small but devoted army of admirers. But by emphasising its beautifully designed computers and phenomenally successful iPod portable music player, it turned the corner and began to win new fans. More importantly, Apple’s prices are now within the reach of all,” Anthony Dhanendran writes for Computeract!ve.

Dhanendran writes, “So what are PC users missing out on, and what are the things that PC users can still gloat about?” Computeract!ve explores the Apple Mac “inside out, looking at how and why it differs from Windows-based computers, and explaining what you can do on a Mac that you can’t on a PC, and vice versa.”

“The received wisdom is that Macs are much safer than PCs when it comes to viruses, spyware and other security threats. It’s certainly true that virus writers target PC users running Internet Explorer because this is the most common combination on the internet. The virus writer’s strike rate will be higher doing this, than if they were to target Mac users,” Dhanendran writes. “Yes, the Mac is safer in general, with fewer discovered security holes, but that doesn’t mean it’s to tally free from attack. While as a Mac user you won’t be susceptible to PC viruses or spyware designed to trap PC users, there are still threats. Like the PC, Macs come with a personal firewall built-in, and automatic updates if bug fixes are needed. Finally, because of the way Mac OS works, the system’s core is more protected from viruses than under Windows. It is fair to say that, for now, Macs are safer than PCs, but that may change as virus writers and hackers start to take an interest.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Other than indulging in a bit of the “security via obscurity” myth (see next paragraph), this is an interesting article.

Mac OS X machines are inherently safer than Windows boxes, regardless of market share or installed base. Although having a smaller user base certainly doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t appear to be the primary reason for the complete lack of Mac OS X viruses. For example, Apple’s Mac OS X has suffered zero (0) virus cases in the over five years (September 13, 2000) since Mac OS X was released to the public. According to Apple, there are “close to 16 million Mac OS X users” in the world and there are still zero (0) viruses. For comparison, according to CNET, the Windows Vista Beta was released “to about 10,000 testers” at the time the first Windows Vista virus arrived. So much for security via obscurity.

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Related MacDailyNews articles:
Hackers already targeting viruses for Microsoft’s Windows Vista – August 04, 2005
16-percent of computer users are unaffected by viruses, malware because they use Apple Macs – June 15, 2005
ZDNet: How many Mac OS X users affected by the last 100 viruses? None, zero, not one, not ever – August 18, 2005
Intel CEO Otellini: If you want security now, buy a Macintosh instead of a Wintel PC – May 25, 2005
Apple touts Mac OS X security advantages over Windows – April 13, 2005
97,467 Microsoft Windows viruses vs. zero for Apple Mac’s OS X – April 05, 2005
Apple’s Mac OS X is virus-free – March 18, 2005
Cybersecurity advisor Clarke questions why anybody would buy from Microsoft – February 18, 2005
Security test: Windows XP system easily compromised while Apple’s Mac OS X stands safe and secure – November 30, 2004
Microsoft: The safest way to run Windows is on your Mac – October 08, 2004
Information Security Investigator says switch from Windows to Mac OS X for security – September 24, 2004
Columnist tries the ‘security through obscurity’ myth to defend Windows vs. Macs on virus front – October 1, 2003
New York Times: Mac OS X ‘much more secure than Windows XP’ – September 18, 2003
Fortune columnist: ‘get a Mac’ to thwart viruses; right answer for the wrong reasons – September 02, 2003
Shattering the Mac OS X ‘security through obscurity’ myth – August 28, 2003
Virus and worm problems not just due to market share; Windows inherently insecure vs. Mac OS X – August 24, 2003

34 Comments

  1. “I’m not sure about the virus for Windows Vista. Was it a real virus or just a “proof of concept”?”

    From the original MDN article, there were 5 viruses that took advantage of Monad, which is MS new command line interface. Reportedly, MS has decided to remove the feature from Longhorn/Vista, at least in the initial release.

  2. MacDailyNews,

    That obscurity thing IS PROBABLY NOT A MYTH. Yes, Mac OS X is safer than Windows XP but the fact it is not the leading operating system does make it a much smaller target for hackers, viruses and everything like that and is probably the main reason it’s safer. My reaserch did show that there is at least one malicious program for mac os X : a trojen horse. There might and probably are more.

  3. snowy2005

    So how does the trojan do any harm if the admin password is not given and the program doesn’t get installed? It doesn’t matter if there are 10 or 20 (and the operative number here is zero) virii out there. It can’t do anything on its own, nor can any spyware or malware.

  4. Overall a nice, generally positive piece, but there seem to be a lot of mistakes – more of the careless than malicious or clueless nature:

    “The Mac goes back almost as long as the PC, having been ‘born’ in 1984 (the PC is three years older). Like the PC, it has gone through several changes since then, and the original is barely recognisable in the current models.”

    — If he’s going to equate a 286 DOS box to WinXP this way, he should push back the date for Apple to encompass the Apple ][

    ————-

    “The major reason for the difference between Macs and PCs is the processor. While a PC can use two types of processor – Intel or AMD – both are essentially the same and both can run the same software. Macs, on the other hand, use a PowerPC processor – no relation to the PC – which runs its own software.”

    — If Intel and AMDs x86 are considered different “types”, then so are the G3, G4 and G5 – again with two vendors, IBM and Freescale (MOT). If he wants to continue going back to the beginning, the 68K was an example of “single vendor” but even then there were a few flavors.

    ————-

    “It’s fair to say that the Mac introduced several innovations […] such as […] 3.5in floppy disks”

    — What’s a floppy? No mention of popularizing USB and Firewire, either…

    ————-

    “But instead of a Start menu, there is a Dashboard” — I think he means “Dock”. Oh well.

    ————-

    OTHER NITS TO PICK:

    “Although you cannot run PC software on a Mac” — Well, not out of the box… and possibly not well.

    “new Macs all come with a software suite called iLife” — I thought it was just consumer machines? He says the same thing about AppleWorks as well.

    ————–

    Good marks for clearly dispelling the MHz-myth at the top of page two. I’m left with the impression that the author was trying very hard to neither offend nor please anyone very much and mediocrity crept in.

  5. My comments below may not reflect the spirit of the response to this particular article you’re highlighting MDN. But I have wanted to say this for a while:

    With more and more articles getting written about Apple and the Macintosh computer, I think a new approach to responding to these articles is in order. Mainly I think everyone should do this:

    1) if it is a good article, write and tell them how much you appreciate it,
    2) if it is a bad article, totally ignore it.
    3) if parts of it are bad and parts of it are good, write and tell them what a good job they did on the good parts. Ignore the bad stuff.

    Now, if you cannot ignore bad articles or bad parts of articles and have to respond, then respond nicely and politely.

    In other words, stop slamming writers when they don’t do a good job.

    I am new to the Mac platform (only 10 months on Macintosh) and I am tired of writers and others thinking we’re crazy and worse, that we’re mean and rude.

    Be nice folks. Please, be nice. It’s a good time to be a Mac owner, don’t spoil it for the rest of us.

  6. The bottom line is that Macs are far more secure than Windows. No matter the reason. I do believe it’s more because the of OS and not obscurity personally. We have a FAR surperior OS and our browser doesn’t look like swiss cheese.

  7. Of course you can write a virus for the mac. The easy one is something that you trick someone into running. Kinda harder to do than on windows since the mail tool wont execute content. But once you get them to run it it will have access to the address book and can install itself as a cron task and off it goes.

    Now the good bit is that it only runs with the rights of the user that ran it. And it won’t have access to the main system. So you might need to wipe your account and any apps you have write access to… but that’s about it.

    The harder ones are where you can exploit a buffer overflow an exec something without the user doing anything other than opening a page with a specially crafted giff in it (last security update or so IIRC). This also is limited to the current users rights. But if you can do this you can probably figure out how to get root on the machine and then all bets are off.

    If someone can get root on the machine then they can install all sorts of interesting things.

    Still, as someone said before it’s all about windows users running as root (admin) to do anything verses linux/unix where the users have to sudo to do root operations. Windows just doesn’t have this by desing and no ammount of hacking XP/Vista will get it there..

    The best they can do is write as much user space stuff in .net as possible to limit the ammount of untrusted code that can be run on the system…

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