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Originally published Saturday, December 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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False alarm: Macs still immune to most viruses

Currently, Mac OS X is essentially immune to the types of viruses that are so common under Windows that Microsoft has finally decided to offer anti-virus software along with Windows. I haven't recommended that Mac users run anti-virus software since well before Mac OS X appeared, because there are no credible threats.

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I had one of those reality-bending moments last week that made me say, "Are you kidding me?"

A support document on Apple's Web site appeared that suggested users install anti-virus software on their Macs.

That advice countered a key marketing appeal of Mac OS X and made those of us who follow Apple wonder if something bad was coming down the road.

Currently, Mac OS X is essentially immune to the types of viruses that are so common under Windows that Microsoft has finally decided to offer anti-virus software along with Windows. I haven't recommended that Mac users run anti-virus software since well before Mac OS X appeared, because there are no credible threats.

The document turned out to be outdated; someone applied a minor edit that changed its date, leading people to believe the virus-free Mac was suddenly vulnerable. Apple quickly removed the post. I'm sure the companies that make and sell anti-virus utilities for the Mac were thrilled.

If you're really concerned, you can download ClamXav (www.clamxav.com), a free (donations accepted) virus checker based on the open-source ClamAV anti-virus software. It's designed to be run on e-mail attachments and downloaded files to ensure there isn't a malicious payload attached.

I'm sure we'll see a virus threat emerge at some point; although the architecture of Mac OS X makes it difficult to deploy a virus, it's not impossible. But instead of buying and running software that guards against nonexistent threats, you're much safer by never clicking suspicious links in e-mail (which scammers use to trick people into giving up important personal information such as credit-card numbers) and being careful about what you download from the Internet.

My Mac holiday wish list: When my family starts asking for my holiday wish list this time of year, I can't help but conjure up big-ticket items that I'd truly wish for, like thousand-dollar camera lenses and multiple 30-inch LCD displays. I mean, as long as I'm wishing ... right? In that spirit, here's my Mac Wish List for 2008, starting with a couple of dream items and getting more realistic.

15-inch MacBook Pro: My current 2.33 GHz MacBook Pro is humming along quite nicely, but if it were a year or two older, I'd definitely want to receive Apple's latest pro laptop ($1,999 to $2,499). The sturdiness of the aluminum unibody construction is significant, and I could even put up with the glossy screen (which is now the only option, unlike the matte display of my current machine). I'd outfit it with as much RAM as I could put in, and enjoy opening its latchless magnetic lid every time.

External hard drives: These days, you can't — you shouldn't — buy a new computer without also buying hard drives to back up its data. I'd pick up a large-capacity 500 GB external drive (preferably with a speedy FireWire connection, which alas isn't an option for people who own the new consumer MacBook) — about $130 — for ongoing Time Machine backups, and then also a pair of bare internal 3.5-inch drives (about $70).

Why the other two? In addition to a Time Machine backup, I'd want a recent duplicate of my computer's hard drive; I use SuperDuper! (shirt-pocket.com) to easily make bootable copies so I can get running again quickly in case a drive fails.

I'd connect them using an inexpensive drive connector such as the Newer Technology USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter (www.newertech.com). When making duplicates, I don't need a drive in an external case with its own power supply. Just dupe the drive and take the dupe to the office or to a safe-deposit box as an off-site backup. Having two duplicates, rotated a few weeks apart, reduces the chance of data loss even further.

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Back here on Earth: Those items involve a significant outlay of money, so here are some relatively inexpensive items.

For gaming, I quite enjoyed Aspyr's "Call of Duty 4" ($50, aspyr.com) for the Mac, a first-person shooter set in modern times. Above the excellent graphics and gameplay, the cinematic story makes this title more compelling than most competitors. When a major character dies early in the game, I felt a genuine sense of loss. My only quibble is that the mission ends much sooner than I would have liked.

I'm always looking for stocking stuffers as Christmas nears, so one thing to add to the list would be BudFits ($9, www.budfits.com), ergonomic clips that let you wear regular iPod earbuds over the ear when exercising (or if you just can't keep the buds in your ears but don't want to buy new headphones).

Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications.

Send questions to carlsoncolumn@mac.com. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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