April 22, 2002

Klez and OpenOffice should both spur Linux use

- By Robin "Roblimo" Miller -
Our webmaster@linux.com and editors@linux.com email addresses are now getting close to 100 emails daily containing the latest Klez worm. Windows users worried about this latest infection need to know that it doesn't bother Linux computers at all. That's a darn good reason to drop Windows and take up Linux. Yes, when you switch to Linux you'll need to learn to use different software, but in return you'll become immune to all popular worms and viruses. And then there's OpenOffice. Last week I had a minor epiphany about this fine software package and its relationship with Microsoft Office that I'll share with you toward the end of this article.
Viruses and worms are getting nastier

A few years ago, you Windows users had to click on email file attachments to get a virus or worm infection. Now Klez (they tell me) can mess you up whenever you just preview an attachment containing it, and the latest Klez version doesn't send itself to (and irritate) only the people whose email addresses are in your Outlook address folders, but any email address that appears in any file on your hard drive. An awful lot of you Windows-plus-Klez users seem to have downloaded Linux.com pages, and that's why Linux.com gets so many virus-ridden emails from you. Hopefully, you're looking at Linux.com because you're thinking about getting and using Linux. This is the only reason I don't get upset about the virus email invasion, but laugh at it.

I especially enjoy the Klez emails that claim to contain a cure for Klez. It must be a hoot to find out, the hard way, that those emails are actually the virus. Of course, if Klez is emailing your personal files all over the world (which is what it seems to do), it might not seem so funny to you at the time.

You can now get anti-Klez patches from most major anti-virus companies. And then a new virus or worm will come along, possibly even another Klez variant, that will bypass this latest round of virus protection, and the whole cycle will start over again. Actually, it would be more accurate to say, "the cycle will continue," because I still see Sircam and other "old" viruses coming in. The chain of Windows viruses never seems to end. Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP; all are affected by almost all of them, so upgrading to the latest Windows version doesn't help. And whenever you reinstall Windows, you need to remember to reinstall (and re-update) your virus software -- and the next virus or virus variant will probably break through whatever protection you have, anyway, and there you go again.

C'mon, Windows people. Break the pattern. Get off the virus treadmill. Take the time to learn Linux. Start with this article and go from there. You may find that some features available in Windows are not available in Linux, but you will also find things you can do in Linux that you couldn't do in Windows. But since one of the biggest Windows "features" you will give up by switching to Linux is easily-spread viruses and worms, the change will be good for you in the long run. Really. Trust me. I made the jump years ago and have never regretted it.

OpenOffice vs. Microsoft Office

The other day I got some essential forms from a colleague in .sxw format. (They were email attachments, but because I use Linux I opened them without fear.) This format is zipped XML, a totally open standard, and it's the way StarOffice and OpenOffice store files. I opened the forms, filled in the necessary blanks, and passed them on to another colleague who was supposed to add more information to them.

The third person said he couldn't open the files; that they weren't in Word .doc format, and MS Office was all he had around for doing the kind of collaborative work we were doing.

The person who originally sent me the forms emailed the Microsoft user and told him he should download and install OpenOffice; that it was free, and quite a nice program, and would read .sxw files just fine. So #3 downloaded and installed OpenOffice on his (Windows) computer at work, and was amazed at how easy it was to use and at all it could do. He also marveled at the fact that it was free. That evening he installed it on his wife's computer, his teenage son's computer, and on his personal laptop. He had been using Microsoft Office at work, and had thought about buying a copy for use at home, but his budget wouldn't stretch that far.

The most amusing part of all this, as #3 pointed out, was that Microsoft Office, which costs hundreds of dollars, couldn't open, read, modify or save OpenOffice files, while (free) OpenOffice did a fine job of opening, reading, changing, and saving Microsoft Office files.

So which program is a better value: Microsoft Office or OpenOffice?

We'll let you answer that question yourself. #3 already answered it to his own satisfaction. Now that he's discovered OpenOffice as an alternative to Microsoft Office, and he, his wife and his son have started using it instead of the Microsoft Works software that came bundled with their home computers, and like it much better than Works, he's talking about moving to Linux instead of upgrading the home computers, all of which now run Windows 98, to Windows XP. The only problem with a move to Linux is his wife's and son's AOL email addresses. They've had those email addresses for a number of years, and have given them out to all their relatives and friends, and they worry about changing to different email addresses. But now it looks like the AOL barrier to Linux adoption (and it's a major one to millions of people) is starting to fall.

Meanwhile, Windows viruses keep coming, one after another, and the hardware power required to use the latest version of Windows continues to rise. Slowly, calmly, without any great fuss, we are moving toward the day when ordinary, non-technical computer users ask friends, "Why are you using Windows instead of Linux?" instead of today's more common, "Why do you use Linux instead of Windows?"

That day can't come too soon for me. While Windows viruses can't hurt my Linux computer, I get tired of deleting them, and when I'm on a dialup modem they take an awfully long time to download.

On the office software front, it gets old, this constant need to resave work in .doc format instead of just shooting it off as .sxw. Even committed Microsoft-lovers should realize that if I ask them to install free OpenOffice in the name of collaboration, it's much more reasonable than asking me to spend hundreds of dollars on Windows and Microsoft Office to achieve the same goal.

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