A phone call I got from my Grandfather this evening set me thinking about OS choices for non-experts and Windows in particular. I’d been dreading and expecting this call ever since he got Broadband last year. Although my Grandfather was the first person in our family to buy a PC the internet is new to him. For a man of his generation he is a positive technophile. His first computer was an 80286 from Amstrad and he’s never been without one since. He’s always bought computer magazines and for a long time he was always the person in our family with the most up-to-date machine (I’ve taken over that position in recent years). When my parents (and hence me) were using a 386 he had a 486. He was also the first in our family to use Windows 95, and the first to get a Pentium processor. He was also the first, and hence only, member of our family to go Windows ME, so glad he took that bullet for the rest of us :)

Anyway, I think you get the point, when it comes to computers my Grandfather is no ordinary Grandfather, however, when it comes to the internet he is. Broadband only became available to him last year so he’s only had it since then. He’s in love with Skype, adores internet banking, and is getting to grips with email and googling. So what call did I get today? The call to say he’d been infected with malware, something calling itself WinFixer which is demanding money to fix what ever it’s broken.

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After giving the standard “run Spybot S&D, Root Kit Revealer and AVG” advice I started to think about preventing a recurance in the future. What about switching to the Mac? That boat sailed last year when he gave it careful consideration before buying a brand new PC instead (“I’m too old to change”). What about Linux? Not exactly user-friendly is it, and the thing he enjoys most is gaming. Perhaps using Linux in a VM for everything internet related? Seems a little over-complicated. No, the in-escapable truth is that my Grandfather is better off on Windows. He’s used Windows since Windows 3.1 and he has bucket-loads of Windows software dating right back to Windows 3.1 that he knows and loves and that still runs on Windows XP (the oldest with the help of DOS Box).

However, from a security point of view the very worst thing he can do is use Windows on the internet. Being an Internet novice he smack-bang in the middle of the cross-hairs of all the evil SOBs out there trying to get rich by defrauding naive and innocent users. He’s not expert enough to properly protect himself so it really was a matter of when, not if, I got the call I got today.

Hence we have the Windows paradox, for my Grandfather, as well as many other, Widows is both the best and the worst OS choice. I’d love to be able to say that everyone should use Linux or OS X but in reality a beginner can only use an OS that they have friends and family using too. When starting out you need help, support and encouragement from those around you and you can’t get that is no one has a clue about the OS you’re using. As Linux and Mac become ever more popular there are ever more people out there to offer help to novices wishing to use those OSes so more and more people will have that choice in the future, but right now, in Ireland, most beginners are more-or-less forced to use Windows. It is the easiest OS for them to get help using, and yet, it places them at the most risk.