272: Linux User at Best Buy

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Linux User at Best Buy
We actually stand around the antivirus displays with the Mac users just waiting for someone to ask.
Title text: We actually stand around the antivirus displays with the Mac users just waiting for someone to ask.

[edit] Explanation

Best Buy is an American chain of electronics and media stores. As with many such big box shops, they only sell pre-bundled software and boxed pre-built hardware, where the computers on offer are either Macs or other PCs, usually pre-installed with some variant of the Mac OS X or Windows NT operating system families. Most personal computer hackers/enthusiasts (as opposed merely to workaday computer users) wouldn't be caught dead buying a pre-made computer, preferring instead to build their own using self-selected hardware components and install and configure their own preferred operating systems and software. As such, the subtext is that somebody buying a complete pre-packaged home computer system at Best Buy wouldn't know or care much about computers.

The salesperson is trying to sell antivirus software to Cueball because selling such software (e.g. Norton or Kaspersky) to prospective Windows PC owners is generally a good sales tactic. The vast majority of all computer malware is engineered specifically to exploit Windows, and Windows' inherent anti-malware protection might most charitably be described with the phrase "lacklustre, but not as bad as before". Windows users therefore will want antivirus protection, especially for use on a brand new machine that will soon be connected up to the internet. Moreover, because the ecosystem of viruses and malware which thrive by infecting Windows PCs is constantly evolving (see 350: Network) and being redesigned to take advantage of new exploits and fool last-month's antivirus software, it is quite prudent for a Windows PC owner to always keep their malware protection absolutely up-to-date, and many such security suites need to be regularly renewed with new versions.

While some viruses and malware can afflict Linux, in general UNIX and workalike operating systems of its type (e.g. BSD) are far more robust and secure than Windows, with fewer exploitable vulnerabilities; so, Cueball is confident (probably rightly so) that he will be fine without added security. Moreover, Linux is free software, so although malware protection usually isn't necessary for it, excepting for tasks requiring very high security standards (such as on servers and supercomputers), if extra protection is desired by the user it is generally easily obtainable, often gratis.

Back in 2007, after the commercial failure that was Windows Vista and with a stagnant Mac market, many in the Linux community believed that Linux would soon wipe out Windows as the operating system of choice for desktop PCs, after years of slow-but-steady growth. This explains the cheeky triumphalism of the final panels of the comic, in which Cueball hops on his quick, slick vehicle and speeds away. It's worth noting that

  • this desktop reversal has not happened, though
  • Linux did achieve a peak in popularity in 2011 just as Windows users were laboriously switching from Windows XP to Windows 7, with Linux peaking again in 2014 and Windows arguably in decline, and in any case
  • desktop PCs themselves have slowed in sales, losing ground first to laptops and most recently to embedded devices, where Linux does indeed heavily excel its competition, e.g. Android handily outcompeting both the previously dominant iPhone (which was first released mere days after this comic) as well as the never-popular Windows Phone

The title text makes sense in light of the fact that, like Linux, the software design of OS X (both are based on Unix, OS X through Darwin - see 676: Abstraction) limits the amount of harm that can be done by malicious software, and Macs thus also have fewer viruses and malware than Windows. Apparently, Mac and Linux users flock together just waiting for some salesperson to come along and mistake them for someone gullible enough to use Windows. This is taking the piss out of the smugness sometimes to be found among Mac and Linux users, who may view their preferred systems as hip and different from the "mainstream" Microsoft systems which they feel are manifestly inferior.

[edit] Transcript

Salesman: Interested in updating your antivirus software?
Cueball: Oh, I wouldn't need any of that.
[In a spiky speech bubble.]
Cueball: I run Linux.
[Cueball does a backflip onto a motorcycle.]
[Cueball performs a wheelie on the motorcycle.]
[Cueball does a hard, donut turn on the motorcycle, kicking up dirt into the salesman's face.]
[Cueball speeds off on the motorcycle, leaving the salesman in a cloud of black exhaust.]

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Not that Macs or Linux are invulnerable to malware. (Anyone else remember the Internet Worm, which would surely have ripped through Linux machines if not encountered on Unix, already, in pre-Linux days. Other exploits have been discovered, and had to be fixed.) Having said that, both types of machine tend to be safer from an OS security model point of view, from being a minority target that is largely overlooked and from the end-users being generally more savvy against liveware component attacks. However with the targetted growing flood of new users, that may well be changing. The latter two points, at least, although I'm sure some of the distros "boot as root" as well.

The speed of Linux also tends to be more from being more finely-honed by the last generation or two of geeks. Less clutter (at least with the distros I like, YMMV with some of the more "user friendly" ones) and the somewhat intimate knowledge of the system that the user tends to get and is able to act upon if anything displeases them (although, again, that may be changing). These days (and those days, I'm pretty sure) you can get mainstream AV programs for Linux (and Mac) and while I'm not going to say they're necessary for Linux, they're available and primed to help you out of various messes you could encounter. 08:07, 20 June 2013 (UTC)

Approximately 15 ago I did deactivate the firewall at my main (Linux) internet gateway for some tests only for a few minutes. I WILL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN! I only remember the root access was done by a user name r00t and my log files at "/var/log" had been deleted. When I did figure out that attack I immediately disconnected it from the internet, but I also had to do a complete new install to that system. Linux is only secure when you know how to secure it.--Dgbrt (talk) 22:01, 5 August 2013 (UTC)

Most linux virus scanners are to scan e-mails for windoze viruses. 04:09, 27 August 2013 (UTC)

Is the motorbike backflip and speedaway a reference to something? 14:03, 17 August 2016 (UTC)

What Linux distros do you guys use (if you do use one)? #ubuntuforlife #makingalinuxOSmyself  :D --JayRulesXKCD (talk) 16:36, 14 September 2016 (UTC)

   Arch Linux. Although I'm new to Linux, I already love it!-- 19:07, 5 December 2016 (UTC)

Whooooo! good job, Randall! 21:12, 18 October 2016 (UTC)

Haha i use linux... on a VM---- (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

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