There was a slight kerfuffle in Mac-land as December began when Apple Inc. released
and then withdrew a technical note suggesting that Macintosh owners should
get and use multiple versions of anti-virus software to protect their systems. The
"KnowledgeBase" article was removed from Apple's online services within
24 hours of its gaining media attention.
The hubbub came because Macs have, traditionally, been viewed as relatively removed
from the clutches of virus-spreaders. Since Windows-based PCs have had as much as 95
percent of the computing market, virus pushers have gone there, leaving Macs largely
Moreover, an Apple spokesman told Macworld magazine (www.macworld.com), "The Mac
is designed with built-in technologies that provide protection against malicious
software and security threats right out of the box."
Macworld quoted the spokesman, Bill Evans, as adding, "since no system can be
100-percent immune from every threat, running anti-virus software may offer
I've used Macs, actively and on a more-or-less daily basis, since 1991, and I
can't recall a major virus-related problem with any of them. While that's a good
thing, no good thing lasts forever, and a potential threat may yet loom out there.
What to do? The first thing, I'd suggest, is not to panic. There have been few
attacks on Macs, and no major ones reported this year. The odd virus will surface,
but it is often shot down quickly.
That said, you can (and perhaps should) get an anti-virus program for your Mac.
I've just installed iAntiVirus, from the Australian firm PC Tools, an
independent unit of Symantec Corp. There's a free version (www.iantivirus.com)
which offers smart scanning of viruses, their removal, and constant updates; a paid
version for $29.95 lets you run it on more computers (as many as three) and offers
telephone support. Volume licenses are also available.
After installation, I did a "quick scan" of the 2.33 GHz iMac at my home office,
and it came up clean 22 minutes later. I could run a more detailed scan, and might
overnight. During the scan, I could keep the program in the background and work on
other items, even though this computer has only 2 Gigabytes of RAM. This suggests
that iAntivirus doesn't gum up the works too terribly much, which is a good thing.
Earlier this year I tried several anti-virus and anti-spam filters from Intego
Software (www.intego.com). These programs are interesting, and sport a robust list
of capabilities and features, but they also made life rather difficult for me,
particularly on the e-mail filtering side. There, the Intego programs kept marking
as "spam" items I wanted or needed to get in my Inbox. The anti-virus software
seemed a bit hinky as well, and I eventually removed it and the other Intego
programs from the MacBook Pro at work because I didn't want to be bothered.
That brings me to a couple of general conclusions about anti-virus software, which
are typified by my Mac experiences. One is that anti-virus software should be free,
or as low-cost as possible. That goes against my inner capitalist, but the fact is,
the more easily computer users can block and defeat viruses, the sooner (one hopes)
the overall problem would diminish. That means the vast majority of people should
use anti-virus software, and thus it should be free.
Or, solid anti-virus protection with more "oomph" than the current
components of Windows Vista should be part of all future computer operating
systems. Before someone starts screaming about anti-trust and monopoly, please see
the argument above. Building it into the operating system is certainly a way to make
protection universally available.
For now, find a good, inexpensive program and put it on your computer. One maker to
avoid, though, is Panda Software, whose near-incessant e-mailing to their customers
obliterates, in my view, any good their products accomplish.