Again yesterday Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) warned about newly found security flaws in Windows that could allow an attacker to steal data on your PC. Should we panic? No, because this has been going on for years. Every other day the software giant issues yet another "critical update." What does come as a surprise, though, is that one of the updates is for Windows XP Service Pack 2 for Microsoft's flagship operating system, which was supposedly aimed at making personal computers more secure and reliable. Yeah, right.
At this point, Windows users are installing patches to fix the patches that were supposed to have been fixed with Windows XP Service Pack 2. Microsoft's solution to this problem is to say, "Our commitment is to deliver the best patch-management system we can, based on the feedback we get from our customers, and that's what we've done."
Instead of a secure operating system, the company has decided to create a "patch-management system"? Give me a break.
As fellow Fool Alyce Lomax mentioned, with customers feeling insecure, this latest critical update doesn't help Microsoft's image with the public. These vulnerabilities, especially with Internet Explorer, are opening the door wider for competitors. More Web surfers are looking for alternatives without the security headaches. Firefox, which rose from the ashes of Netscape, lacks the security flaws that plague Internet Explorer and has become increasingly popular with the new version 1.0 release. After being vanquished by Microsoft in the late 1990s, Netscape was purchased by Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX ) America Online, and the software's code was donated to the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation. Since obtaining the source code, Mozilla has created a user-friendly alternative.
With all the flaws, it does give PC users a reason to think beyond Windows. While Microsoft still has the overwhelming market share, there are still millions of Apple Computer (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iMac users. The continued shortcomings by Microsoft should give Linux makers such as Red Hat (Nasdaq: RHAT ) a marketing angle for why open-source technology has advantages when it comes to security issues. Unlike Windows, Linux allows programmers to read, modify, and redistribute the source code to fix flaws more rapidly, thus keeping the program more updated against any attacks.
Microsoft isn't in danger of losing to the smaller competitors just yet. However, the little guys might be able to use the company's news headlines as a reason to give their programs another look. Investors won't bail on the world's largest software company because of these security issues, but consumers are looking beyond Internet Explorer for a safer Web surfing experience. I, for one, like the idea of an operating system and a browser that don't require a new patch every time I turn my computer on.
Discuss the flaws and other issues on our Microsoft discussion board.
Fool contributorKelvin Taylor is a Firefox user anddoes not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.