Varying Degrees of Microsoft Separation

By Deane Barker on October 15, 2003

Given that Microsoft products appear to be full of security holes, more and more thought is being given to migrating to other platforms. However, this has problems of its own. Macs are expensive, and Linux isn’t quite ready as a desktop platform.

This leaves a lot of people in limbo — they need to minimize Windows security problems as much as they can without abandoning Windows entirely. There may be Windows-only applications they need, or they make have to connect to a Windows network, etc.

The question then, is, if you can’t leave Microsoft entirely, does leaving it in varying degrees help make you more secure?

I ask because I’m slowing leaving the Microsoft platform. It wasn’t explicitly planned, but every day, I find less and less use for Microsoft products. Currently, Firebird is my browser of choice, and Mozilla Mail is my email client. I still have to use Outlook for work, but I’m slowly migrating my users off the Exchange server and going to client-based SMTP accounts, so Outlook’s days are numbered (perversely, I may keep it around just for NewsGator).

I had been maintaining a Web site in FrontPage, but that’s not going to last either. I’m moving the site to a Linux server, and there are other, better options. I do image editing in IrfanView and Photoshop Elements, and MySQL is my server database platform. I still use Access for some things (very handy for printing reports from a linked SQL or MySQL server), but I’ve heard FileMaker is even better and I have a copy of Crystal Reports 7 sitting around that I can use.

We have a Windows network, but you can replace the domain controller with Linux. Samba will act as a PDC, and Suse has released a new version of Linux designed specifically to take the place of a Windows workgroup server.

So, back to my question. Say I move off Microsoft applications entirely, but I keep Windows XP Pro as my operating system. So, Windows still forms the walls of the house, but I’ve decorated it completely with non-Microsoft applications. Am I better off? Does the lack of Microsoft applications make me safer? Or does the existence of Windows as the underlying operating system make any extra security this would provide irrelevant?



  1. Hmmm… I’ve been pondering the same topic for the past few months. This Summer I decided to get a junker machine and install Red Hat on it just to experiment. I never intended it to be a desktop, so I never really spent a whole lot of time screwing around with the desktop side. Instead, I chose to turn that machine into my main webserver, file server, and print server. Since that little experiment, I decided to make a go at trying to move to Linux for a desktop. I’ve tried a few distros and so far none have really gotten me to switch. Mandrake 9.2 sounds promising, but we still have to see. Here’s my latest distro experiment:

    Anyway, I think to really make a switch to Linux, you just have to dive head in and don’t really turn back. It’s good to not be dependent on Microsoft products… you just have so much more freedom in the end.

  2. While I agree that Linux isn’t neccesarily ready for a home user’s desktop, I think that in a corporate environment, it would EXCEL as a desktop solution. Permissions let you tightly control what’s installed and changed, remote administration is a snap with SSH and X, and X can be used to run apps either on the client or a terminal server, transparent to the user. For even more bang for the buck, install dumb terminals and run everything on the terminal server. For those Windows apps that just can’t go away, WINE and WIN4LIN have come a long way towards making most of them run on Linux with a little administrative work.

    I recently bought a laptop, and when I got it from Dell I shrunk the XP partition down to 10GB and installed Gentoo Linux. Everything works as well as XP in Linux, with the exception of the touchpad and the wireless (hi from the kitchen, BTW), which both work BETTER in Linux. I’ve got Firebird for web, Thunderbird and/or Evolution for mail, Eclipse for development, The GIMP for image editing, and many many others. The XP partition is increasingly looking like wasted space.

  3. I think I’ve nearly done what you’re talking about. I exclusively use Firebird & Thunderbird for web & mail, and since Firebird responds to Win2K challenge/request security I can even use it for our local intranet.

    I use Feed Demon ( ) for RSS so I don’t need Outlook. Jabber ( ) provides an interface to Messenger, so that’s gone (especially after it continually pops up after installing WinXP, grrr!). OpenOffice 1.1 ( ) is great & can open MS Office documents and so far has all the functionality of the Microsoft products that I used.

    So I only really use Microsoft for the OS. If I really wanted to I think I could dump it for Linux, but it’s really just my rank laziness preventing that from happening, and XP does have some nifty features :)

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