2 min read

New Macs and new viruses

Apple users have always been safe from virus attacks. No more

Macintosh users are thinking a little less differently this year. First came Macs based on Intel Corp. chips. Soon after came Leap.A and OSX/Inqtana.A, malware aimed at Macintosh OS X.

Along with some other Canadian technology journalists, I was treated to demos of the new Macs at Apple Canada headquarters in February. They are nice looking, powerful and well designed. Apple continues doing great things with graphics, video and audio. What it does well continues to appeal primarily to certain niches, such as design departments, education and consumers, who increasingly make video presentations out of their holiday snapshots and videos and sharing their creations with friends and relatives via the Internet.

If I had not already known these machines were built on Intel chips, though, I wouldn’t have found out from looking at them or from watching demos. Willi Powell, Apple Canada’s strategic development manager, made a point of how Intel’s new dual-core architecture will give the new Macs more speed. But the dual-core architecture is pretty new anyway, not just new to the Mac world (where desktop computers with two completely separate processors are commonplace).

No, Apple’s shift from IBM PowerPC to Intel processors is interesting only as industry news to be picked apart like tea leaves or animal entrails in search of deeper meaning. To the average person sitting at a keyboard, it makes little difference.

And that just goes to show how little underlying hardware really matters to most of us. It’s the software, the customer service, and of course, the price, that counts.

While Macintoshes are moving to Intel chips, they aren’t moving away from their own operating system, and that of course means that Apple users will continue to be free from the plague of viruses afflicting us poor benighted Windows users.

Or not.

With Leap.A and OSX/Inqtana.A arriving in quick succession in February, it was tempting to wonder if (a) the Mac was facing a sudden virus onslaught, and (b) there was any connection between this and the switch to Intel chips.

Dean Turner, senior manager of development for security response at antivirus software vendor Symantec Corp., quickly cleared up the second question by explaining that the new Mac malware was aimed at the PowerPC version of OS X, though it might run on Intel-based Macs thanks to Rosetta, the emulation software supporting not-yet-ported OS X apps on the new machines.

Virus explosion
But could the move lead to a proliferation of Mac viruses? It could possibly contribute, given that the Macs now run on chips more familiar to virus writers who have concentrated on Windows up to now. The OS is still different, though, and Windows still dominates the market, so it still has the big target on its back.

Will there be more viruses for Macs? Probably. Mac boosters are fond of saying the Mac is more secure and it’s harder to write a successful Mac virus. Some virus writers no doubt see that as a challenge. Also, antivirus software isn’t as widely used on Macs.

And that’s one way Mac users should stop thinking differently. Yes, you can hook up an unprotected Mac to the Internet and not get infected within minutes. But the time to install antivirus software is while that’s still true, not after it changes.