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The Big Advantage in Being Small

By Charles Haddad Who knew that being small could be so beautiful?

Let me explain. In the past couple of weeks much of the business world suffered a two-pronged attack. The SoBig.F virus flooded corporate e-mail systems with phony messages and the Blaster computer worm slithered into the operating systems of millions of PC users. Some half-million cases of infection on Microsoft-based and other applications were reported worldwide.

Not even the biggest, most technically savvy companies were immune. FedEx (FDX), long an innovator in computer networks, saw its parcel-tracking service slowed for about two hours under assault from SoBig junk mail. And railroad operator CSX Transportation (CSX) actually had to halt all train service in metro Washington. D.C. for a while Aug. 13.

LIVING ON THE EDGE. And though I was tethered to the World Wide Web, I was spared this ordeal. What saved me? These worms have no appetite for Macs, especially those running the latest operating system, OS X. And, it seems, I'm among the few here who uses a Mac.

And herein lies an irony. In bemoaning the Mac's puny market share, the Wintel crowd misses the growing advantage of being small. Neither the disgruntled nor the crusader wants to bother attacking a computer that represents only 3% of worldwide PC sales. You see, going after such a small target won't earn you front-page headlines.

That's not to say that Macs are immune to attacks, but they're as safe as you can get today. I've known only a handful of cases in which Macs or Mac networks were infected. Personally, I've yet to suffer an attack in 10 years of using e-mail and surfing the Web on various Macs. And I've lived dangerously, even disabling my virus protection while downloading files from unknown users off the Net.

No savvy PC user would dare such a foolish thing. Today, my PC friends and co-workers live in constant fear of virus and worm attacks. It has greatly dampened their once torrid love affair with e-mail and the Internet (see BW Online, 8/26/03, "The Ever-Growing Virus Crisis").

In the wake of the SoBig scare and the comforting glow of my titanium laptop, I have had an epiphany. We Mac users are on the network, but not of it. That is, we can tap seamlessly into any system of PCs, surf the Web, send e-mail, and download files. My editors in New York are always surprised to hear I use a Mac. They can't tell the difference -- that I send stories to them in the Mac version of Microsoft Word or that I e-mail them from OS X version of Entourage.

REMORAS AND WHALES.Yet there's a huge difference when trouble strikes. By and large, hackers don't want to be bothered amending a virus's digital DNA to attack Macs, or hijack them to use as stalking-horses to attack other computers.

If you think about it, Macs are not unlike remoras, those fish that freeload under the mouths of whales. They gorge themselves when their host sucks in plankton from the ocean, but then swim to safety if the whale gets harpooned.

I hope Macs never become a whale in the PC community. In these days of digital epidemics, small is beautiful. Haddad, Atlanta-based correspondent for BusinessWeek, is a long-time Apple Computer buff. Follow his weekly Byte of the Apple column, only on BusinessWeek Online

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