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'Mad as Hell' Author Winn Schwartau Explains How He Got There, Where He's Headed

TMO Reports - 'Mad as Hell' Author Winn Schwartau Explains How He Got There, Where He's Headed

by , 3:50 PM EDT, June 24th, 2005

When security expert Winn Schwartau first declared he was "Mad As Hell," he had no idea what kind of reaction he would elicit. As someone who built his first computer at the age of nine and has been involved in the industry since the 1960s, he told The Mac Observer that he was simply fed up with what he calls "a series of collapses -- constant reboots, application memory leaks, the 'blue screen of death' -- in a short period of time.

"I've had it with the amount of downtime," he recalled saying. "Let's go try this [switching to the Mac] experiment. I had a fit and started writing about it. Then Network World wanted my next article, so I published 'Mad As Hell' and started the blog at the same time."

Mr. Schwartau is currently in the first phase of his experiment, having switched about half his firm, The Security Awareness Company, to Macs. The purchases he made to enable that switch -- several dual processor Power Mac G5s and several G4 PowerBooks -- were the first Mac purchases he ever made. He explained that while many of the thousands of readers who responded -- the traffic to his various Web sites rose by 30,000% -- took "Mad As Hell" as an anti-Windows rant, "it's not. It's about system complexity."

Reliability is 'Through the Roof'

Specifically, he was concerned about something that many who use Macs have advocated for a long time: look at the total cost of ownership of a computer, when downtime because of viruses and other problems are taken into consideration. "One of the fundamental pieces of security is availability," he explained. "What does it cost to keep systems up and running? That's what I was concentrating on. And as I did that, I started looking at the side benefits of Mac OS X: security and so forth."

Now, reliability of his company's computers "has gone through the roof" -- for his PCs as well as his Macs. Even though the Mac is his preferred platform for day-to-day tasks, he still spends about 20% of his time in the Windows environment for legacy applications, such as his video editing software. However, those machines are not connected to the Internet and he doesn't rely on them for mission critical applications, so, as he put it, he's "not creating the conditions that make PCs fail."

Switching Little By Little

Because his company is largely a virtual one in which people work from off-site locations, he doesn't know if everyone will make the switch. He does know one person who has resisted, but everyone else is very happy with the move. He said they "can't believe what they were missing," despite the fact that many of them initially "thought I was out of my mind."

During the two months since he made the switch, he's heard from companies that are making the switch to Mac to some degree, usually with a pilot program in one department as a way to measure the cost of ownership between the two platforms. "And it's not because of what we did," he noted. "A lot of companies are looking for alternatives for WinTel. In fact, when you look at Linux, you see that this has been going on anyway.

"Once you remove the geeks in an organization and look at the day-to-day users," he continued, "the vast majority of them need e-mail, Web surfing and Word. And they need reliability and a seamless, easy-to-use experience."

In the security realm, he said that his company was "the first to take this stand," but now some businesses are making the switch, although others aren't. "There are a lot of emotions," he said. "It's like a bell curve of happiness: from those who have had no problems with Windows to those who say 'I'm as mad as Winn' to everything in-between."

Windows Headed For a Fall?

The future of the industry was the focus of his latest "Mad as Hell" blog post. In it, he reviewed the upcoming issues facing each operating system and came up with a group of market share numbers that he admitted "are meaningless. They're more about what I think will happen," he explained during an interview.

His predictions? Windows shrinking to 72% of the market while the Mac and Linux rise to 16% and 12%, respectively. They're bold numbers, but he said he doesn't "have a huge amount of faith in Longhorn. It's a total rewrite with fundamental differences [from today's Windows]. Microsoft is stripping features out because the complexity of the job is more than they anticipated. This is a big damn shift."

While the Mac will benefit from Windows' security issues, Mr. Schwartau also noted that "Linux should be ready for prime time in 2007," further eroding Microsoft's once-dominant market share, which will only continue the "Which OS is best?" debates. He called the immense response to "Mad as Hell" "a tremendous surprise," but he said the bigger surprise was that "so many people put so much time into the debate." Mr. Schwartau may not have ignited the debate that's been going on for a long time, but he certainly threw more gasoline on the fire, even if that was never his intention.

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