Audiences around the world have heard Microsoft chairman Bill Gates tell them how his great company will "empower" them.

Empowerment is a strong concept. But in the aftermath of the biggest virus hit this year, users must ask themselves where all this empowerment has got them. A cynic would argue it caused the machines they rely on every day at work to catch a nasty rash.

Was the Love Bug "a misuse of available technology", as a Microsoft spokesman blurted? I fear empowerment is a double-edged sword.

It is not a term the industry can abuse as it attempts to convince users to buy new versions of software. If it took a moment to look at how people actually use software, surely a virus such as the Love Letter Visual Basic script would never have spread beyond the hard disc of its warped author.

Bar the software industry itself, I know of no-one who would care about a Visual Basic script, even less know what to do with it once it had arrived and attached itself neatly in their e-mail in-box. Yes, scripting is a powerful concept. But do users need it? Absolutely not.

In an unconnected world the effect of a virus is small. It seems to me that software is being developed in a way that does not take into account the massive devastation that can occur if the technology is abused.

Anti-virus software is only useful once the virus has been written, by which time it is often too late.

Maybe we should thank the virus writer. At least users now know that Visual Basic scripts are bad news. They can add them to the list of bad things to avoid on the information superhighway.

But I would be more worried about the scripts that do not get noticed.

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This was first published in May 2000

 

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