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The Everyman's Guide to OS-X, Windows, and Security

August 30, 2017

I wanted to have a "tell it like it is" conversation with everyone regarding operating systems, data integrity and security. I always believe in the notion that you attract more bees with honey than you do with vinegar. But occasionally a little vinegar is what the doctor orders, so this post will do some of that. My intention is to make this as understandable as possible, especially for the less tech-savvy among us. To put it in a more catchy saying, a local clothier from yesteryear in the DC area, called Syms, used to have a slogan: "An educated consumer is our best customer". In other words, knowledge is power, and that's what I'm attempting to give you.


Now on to the topic at hand, operating systems and security. I cannot emphasize the importance of having good habits when it comes to backing up your phones, tablets, and PCs. Even more so, it is vital that you are aware of security and hacking, and take appropriate measures to prevent its occurrence. Nothing is foolproof, it can always happen, but good habits can greatly reduce the odds of it happening to you.


First, let me address some facts regarding Apple, including iOS, iCloud, and especially OS-X. Have you ever noticed that we occasionally hear about cyber attacks? They tend to come from overseas, but they almost always involve Windows. I personally have no recollection of any recent attacks involving Apple. Now why is this so? First, Apple is one of the best in the IT world at security; it's very important to them. Try logging into your Apple account nowadays, they've added even more layers, including two-factor authentication. iCloud is very secure as well. OS-X, which is the operating system for Mac, has its roots in Unix, which is known for being more secure by default. But beyond the actual OS, Apple runs a closed ecosystem and they really watch their apps and software very closely for malware, viruses, and other nonsense. You'll hear Mac users always say "My Mac never has virus problems". To say they can't get infected is not entirely accurate, but Apple's way of doing business and close attention to detail is the reason for this.


One viewpoint I run into with customers and friends when it comes to Apple is the "I hate them" mentality. I hear complaints from people about not liking the stores and genius bars and so forth. Personally I have no issues with them, and find that they have some of the finest customer service and support in their industry. To be fair, Apple is a large and powerful company, and, not unlike similar companies of yesteryear like US Steel and GM, the public can, at times, gain a perception. If there's anything I can constructively criticize in regards to them it's how they present themselves. They really know what they are doing when comes to computers and phones, but this can often come out as paternal. Some people feel threatened by the closed ecosystem and so forth. Perception is not really reality, and I can assure you Apple is not watching you or trying to rule your life. They just are focused on quality and security, and with that comes hard decisions and sometimes tough stances. They are not evil...except to us independent repair guys :). That's a joke, by the way. They are a "closed vertical", and do not wholesale parts directly to us. I wish the would, but as I've said in previous blog posts, they owe me nothing and I respect their rights to free enterprise.


One issue I run across with Apple haters, and I will concede it is a factor in my own purchasing power, is price. iPhones ARE NOT more expensive to buy than the competition. In fact, they are cheaper. The iPhone is a tremendous value in smartphones for a number of reasons. I mentioned their support, their security, and so forth. They are also cheaper to fix. But the one area where everyone misses is service life. Apple historically provides software support for the iPhone for upwards of 4 years from the date of manufacture. The competition is usually around 2 years. That alone extends the service life of these devices twofold. That's really important and many people miss this one. Now in regards to Mac, yes, they are expensive. A Macbook is often 60-70% more money to buy upfront than the competition. Again, I emphasize taking a big picture perspective. I know people with 2009 era units that run OS-X High Sierra, the current version, with no trouble. So like the iPhone, the service life of these units is very long, and when amortized, the cost is not so bad.


Now despite my singing of their attributes, you'll still find others out there that will say "Apple doesn't have the best hardware". Perhaps that is the case. The MacBook, for example, has long been a generation or two behind in processors. That's not exactly true nowadays, as they are one of the first computer companies to use Intel's Core M processors, which have a very bright future. But in defense of the "generation or two behind" argument, I'll say this. Apple has always been very clear on their mission, and this goes back to the Steve Jobs era. They have always been focused on quality and functionality. I already mentioned the 2009 era MacBooks running current OS. So who cares if it's Skylake or Ivy Bridge, the facts are clear. Their products work very well, and continue to function at a high level well into their geriatric years. I don't care how state of the art something is. How well does it work?


Beyond the upfront cost, there is another side to Mac pricing that, like the iPhone, people miss quite often. I mentioned their focus on quality and security. Nothing in life is free, and to offer this level of service, there is a cost associated with it. Keep in mind that it takes manpower to write the operating systems and deal with the security issues, and the people that do this have highly specialized skills and training. Those type of professionals do not come cheap. It should also be noted that a vast proportion of these professionals are American workers employed at their Cupertino, CA headquarters. So while they may have their devices manufactured at Foxconn in China, the reality is that Apple has legions of employees in the US as well.


Enough about Apple, you know my position on them. Others will have differing opinions, it's up to you ultimately to decide what's best for you. Let's talk about Windows. Is it a bad operating system? No, not at all, it's a different system with its own rules. One of its biggest attributes is its use in corporate enterprise situations. Mac isn't really geared for that, and is more attributed to consumers, video editors, and graphic artists. Most corporate computing systems are Windows based. Windows is also more compatible with a wider range of computers than OS-X. But it does have its shortcomings. It's somewhat old, and it has always been known as less secure than OS-X.


Is Windows an inherently unsafe and insecure operating system? No, not at all, it's just that the rules of the road with Windows is different than OS-X. It should be noted that Microsoft has come a long way with security in their own right, and the current version, Windows 10, is more secure than ever. But generally speaking, it is less secure than OS-X in its raw form. Why is this so? You have to understand that Microsoft generally is not in the hardware business, at least not until relatively recently with the Microsoft Surface tablet/PC, which is an excellent device by the way. They have typically been a software company that sells Windows to a diverse group of manufacturers. So it's designed to run on different types of hardware. For example, an Asus Zenbook may use one brand of hard drive or RAM, Dell may use another. Different hardware requires not only the operating system to have compatible drivers to make the components work, they also have to not have conflicts and crashes. And that doesn't always work out, which is why you hear of Windows based computers crashing more. Conversely, Macs are less prone to these problems because Apple designs OS-X to run exclusively on their machines. They have far fewer models to worry about when it comes to compatibility. So security? Tougher to implement in Windows.


So what's the best way to secure your Windows based PC? I recommend a third party security suite package. There are many, and all have their attributes and drawbacks. You'll find a wide range of opinions on which one is best, but I do believe some are better than others. Whichever one you choose, it will be infinitely preferable to nothing at all. If you do the latter, you will get compromised, trust me.


So what is an internet security suite? These are software packages that protect against viruses and hacking. But be careful here! Not all packages are the same. There's anitvirus and then there is security suites. The former just covers viruses, it does not include a firewall, nor does it protect against identity theft or malware, such as popup ads and so forth. You need a package that gives you all three. And here's the most crucial thing to know. None of these packages are free. You have to buy the software and install it. Most give you a 1 year subscription, and the vendor will update the virus definitions and various malware protection automatically on regular intervals. But once that subscription runs out, you must renew it. Otherwise you will be out of date and you will get hacked. Must be kept up to date at all times. If you play by these rules, you'll have no real problems.


The subscriptions are crucial. I cannot tell you how many times I've had friends and customers ask me to look at their computer, and I find this problem. Out of date/non-existent security suites. When questioning the owner, I usually get a variation of the same answer: "Security what? I got it at Best Buy and they put Norton on it", or "I got Norton free from Comcast" or something along those lines. Folks!! No!!! Those packages are usually either antivirus only, meaning you're still vulnerable to a break in or identity theft, or they're free trials good for 30 days or something limited like that. You must stop this behavior right away! Trust me, it can ruin you.


Before I conclude, I'm sure some of you are wondering what security suite I recommend? Like I said, everyone had an opinion on this one, as do I. My two favorites are Kaspersky Labs and ZoneAlarm Extreme by Checkpoint Software Technologies. Both I've used and like, but the latter is my favorite. The reason? One of the best firewalls and anti-malware programs out there. And it's adjustable in sensitivity. You can let it do its thing in the background, or you can adjust it to block everything and ask you to approve it. I really like that. And the icing on the cake? The antivirus is licensed from Kaspersky, so you get the best of both worlds. And believe me, Kaspersky is renowned for antivirus. They update your system every few hours, that's really huge believe me.


So in conclusion, and I hope you're still awake, I hope you found this informative and entertaining. I try to explain things in the everyman's language so it's easy to understand. Since I'm a big dummy, it's helpful to keep things simple for my own benefit too. As always, if I can be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.




John O'Rangers





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