Patching IE for XP only is a smart move

Any attempt to fix the browser for all flavors of Windows would be an exercise in futility

I sometimes forget how lucky I am to have this gig. Writing something that spawns response from so many people is not only gratifying, it's fun -- even if half those folks are calling you a moron. Such was the level of my gratification after my recent wardrivers-chap-my-posterior column. So before I defend Microsoft for not fixing Internet Explorer for any OS save XP, I want to drop a couple of paragraphs in here responding to the slew of e-mails I received on the wireless column.

Your responses were almost perfectly split down the middle. Half of you agreed, or even felt I hadn't gone far enough, in my condemning wireless-bandwidth swiping. The other half felt that the wardriver community was offering a valuable service, and that I should stick a sock (or something less wholesome) in it. The theme from these folks, however, was almost always the same and suffered from a serious flaw, in my opinion. The upshot was, if someone opens his or her network to the world, can he or she blame the world for listening? Some of those same folks took analogies out of my column, asking if I left my front door open and a child walked in, could I blame that child for any damage he or she caused?

My last point on the wardriving front then is this: We're not children. Nor are we listening to someone shouting unavoidably in our ears. Accessing a wireless network requires a conscious act; in fact, it usually requires several. Setting up your notebook or PDA or, yes, even your mom's Volvo for wardriving requires conscious acts of preparation. You're going out to listen for other people's networks, and you know it. It's not accidental. Just as if you try my front door, find it's unlocked, and consciously decide to enter and trespass. Yes, we've all bumped into other people's WLANs accidentally, but that's not wardriving. Wardriving is going out and looking for them.

Reporting the problem to that network's owner or administrator, however, actually is a valuable service. And if that's why you're wardriving, more power to you. But marking the spot as "open" so gangs of folks can hang out near there to surf the Web, send spam e-mails, or commit some other naughty geek havoc is wrong. No two ways about it. I protect all my wireless installations religiously. But that doesn't mean I condone pirating an unprotected network simply because the owner is ignorant. My opinion, 'nuff said.

Back to Microsoft. There have also been a number of e-mails sent my way condemning Microsoft for announcing it won't fix (and by "fix" I mean "make secure") Internet Explorer on any platform, save Windows XP. Folks are angered that Microsoft is ignoring its responsibility in protecting all the OS platforms it has in the field. They feel that this forces them to upgrade to Windows XP, in effect making a secure version of IE cost $199.

Unfortunately, I can't fly with that. If you're still running Windows 98 because you don't want to pay the $199 for XP, then a new version of Internet Explorer certainly won't make any difference. And frankly, the difference between XP and 98 or even Windows 2000 is such that $199 isn't that outrageous.

Plus, let's face it: Internet Explorer may well be Microsoft's worst blunder. And if not the worst, then it's most certainly the one that's been pricking the company's side the longest. Any attempt on Redmond's part to fix IE across its entire product line would be so resource-intensive as to make the effort all but doomed from the start. I'm disappointed that Microsoft didn't include Windows 2000 as well as XP, but then again, by the time the company actually delivers on any part of this promise, the world will probably be an XP and Longhorn place with Win2K relegated to old timers like me.

Microsoft is cutting its IE losses and attempting to make a clean break along with a new beginning. More power to it. Meantime, for those of us truly worried about IE security problems, let's revisit again a little place we've come to know as Firefox has been my sole browser for nearly a year now, and I've never been happier. We're stable, we're encrypted when the need requires it, and we run all the major plug-ins we need to run. Microsoft can take as long as it needs to fix Internet Explorer, and I wish it all the best in that endeavor. While the smokestacks glow warm over Redmond, however, I'll rely on third-party software that not only works, it's free.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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