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We've all heard it many times when a new Microsoft virus comes out. In fact, I've heard it a couple of times this week already. Someone on a mailing list or discussion forum complains about the latest in a long line of Microsoft email viruses or worms and recommends others consider Mac OS X or Linux as a somewhat safer computing platform. In response, another person named, oh, let's call him "Bill," says, basically, "How ridiculous! The only reason Microsoft software is the target of so many viruses is because it is so widely used! Why, if Linux or Mac OS X was as popular as Windows, there would be just as many viruses written for those platforms!"
Of course, it's not just "regular folks" on mailing lists who share this opinion. Businesspeople have expressed similar attitudes ... including ones who work for anti-virus companies. Jack Clarke, European product manager at McAfee, said, "So we will be seeing more Linux viruses as the OS becomes more common and popular."
Mr. Clarke is wrong.
Sure, there are Linux viruses. But let's compare the numbers. According to Dr. Nic Peeling and Dr Julian Satchell's Analysis of the Impact of Open Source Software (note: the link is to a 135 kb PDF file):
"There are about 60,000 viruses known for Windows, 40 or so for the Macintosh, about 5 for commercial Unix versions, and perhaps 40 for Linux. Most of the Windows viruses are not important, but many hundreds have caused widespread damage. Two or three of the Macintosh viruses were widespread enough to be of importance. None of the Unix or Linux viruses became widespread - most were confined to the laboratory."