- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2008

There was a slight kerfuffle in Mac-land as December began when Apple Inc. released - and then withdrew - a technical note suggesting that Macintosh owners should get and use multiple versions of anti-virus software to protect their systems. The “KnowledgeBase” article was removed from Apple’s online services within 24 hours of its gaining media attention.

The hubbub erupted because Macs traditionally have been viewed as relatively removed from the clutches of virus spreaders. Since Windows-based PCs have had as much as 95 percent of the computing market, virus pushers have gone there, leaving Macs largely alone.

Moreover, an Apple spokesman told Macworld magazine (www.macworld.com), “The Mac is designed with built-in technologies that provide protection against malicious software and security threats right out of the box.”

Macworld quoted the spokesman, Bill Evans, as adding, “Since no system can be 100 percent immune from every threat, running anti-virus software may offer additional protection.”

I’ve used Macs, actively and on a more-or-less daily basis, since 1991, and I can’t recall a major virus-related problem with any of them. While that’s a good thing, no good thing lasts forever, and a potential threat may yet loom out there.

What to do? The first thing, I’d suggest, is not to panic. There have been few attacks on Macs, and no major ones reported this year. The odd virus will surface, but it is often shot down quickly.

That said, you can (and perhaps should) get an anti-virus program for your Mac. I’ve just installed iAntiVirus, from the Australian firm PC Tools, an independent unit of Symantec Corp. There’s a free version (www.iantivirus.com) that offers smart scanning of viruses, their removal and constant updates. A paid version for $29.95 lets you run it on as many as three computers and offers telephone support. Volume licenses are also available.

A couple of general conclusions about anti-virus software, which are typified by my Mac experiences: One is that anti-virus software should be free, or as low-cost as possible.

That goes against my inner capitalist, but the fact is, the more easily computer users can block and defeat viruses, the sooner (one hopes) the overall problem would diminish. That means the vast majority of people should use anti-virus software, and thus it should be free.

Or, solid anti-virus protection - with more “oomph” than the current components of Windows Vista - should be part of all future computer operating systems. Before someone starts screaming about antitrust and monopoly, please see the argument above. Building it into the operating system is certainly a way to make protection universally available.

For now, find a good, inexpensive program and put it on your computer. One maker to avoid, though, is Panda Software, whose near-incessant e-mailing to their customers obliterates, in my view, any good their products accomplish.

E-mail Mark Kellner.