Linux, Where Crapware Goes to Die

by Shawn Powers

Remember this cute little purple ape? If you’re a Linux user, you might not, so let me enlighten you a bit. This little guy is the "Bonzi Buddy" ape. He was one of the earliest malware/spyware/crapware programs for the Microsoft Windows platform. Arguably the cutest of his breed, BonziBuddy became a widespread problem for Windows users for years.

One of the biggest problems for end users is that BonziBuddy almost did something useful. It sorta supplied some value to users (heck, just seeing his little ad dance around was entertaining), but it also did nefarious things in the background. His evil backdoor santa activities, however, were not what made people hate the "product." The dumb monkey was insidious about popping up when you didn’t want to see him, and was impossible to delete! He was sorta like "Clippy Extreme" when it came to annoyance.

So why were Linux users left out in the cold during the heyday of BonziBuddy? Well, there’s a few reasons. Some are obvious, some aren’t.

Yes, Linux is Hard to Infect

BonziBuddy was easy to accidentally install in Windows. At some points in its history, it was hard not to install. With Linux, programs have a much more difficult time forcing their way in. While an inadvertent click in Windows can give you a virus that is difficult to eradicate, with Linux it’s generally more difficult to do so. Which brings us to the next point:

Linux is Easy to Disinfect

Sure, there are dumb programs that can be installed in Linux. Generally, they are pretty straightforward to uninstall though. Sure, you could mess up your Linux system if you tried hard enough, but in general programs are fairly easy to sanitize or destroy. Certainly there are complexities at play with things like gconf, but they’re nothing compared to the Windows’ system registry. It usually doesn’t get that far though, and that’s where I was going with this article to begin with:

Linux Apps Come Pre-vetted!

Go ahead, try to run ‘apt-get install BonziBuddy’ -- it won’t work! Linux distributions come with thousands of programs, of varying usefulness, that you can install all day long. Those packages have all been vetted by communities of people before they ever get to your package manager. In fact, while one of the rally cries of Windows supporters is that the selection of software is so much greater for Windows -- it begs the question of whether or not that’s a good thing.

Yes, there are 100 applications you can buy, or try, or demo, or evaluate, or install for free on Windows for any given task. One of the big problems, however, is that no one determines if they are any good. Google may be a great search engine to find Windows apps, but it certainly isn’t a good quality assurance method for picking Windows software. As Linux users, we not only have a community of developers making free and open source applications for us to use, we also have a community of users that make sure spyware and malware don’t make it into our software repositories. So the next time someone asks why the Linux community is so important and we make such a big deal out of "community", tell them it’s because we all help keep out purple apes. :)

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