GCN

E-mails I received from nearly 50 readers concurred with what some called my
backward liking for older, smaller, easier word processors. Some responses appeared in
print [GCN, July 13, Page 20, and July 20, Page 28].


It turns out that older is better for browser mail subroutines, too. Look at all the
fuss over newly discovered e-mail security holes in Microsoft Exchange, Outlook Express
and Outlook 98, as well as Netscape Communications Corp. browsers.


I don’t believe there is any privacy in e-mail communications. For years, I
avoided fancy mail-management software in favor of direct dial-up programs, such as an old
MS-DOS version of HyperAccess from Hilgraeve Inc. of Monroe, Mich., Microsoft
Windows’ HyperTerminal and plain old ASCII text.


I don’t open a mail attachment from someone I don’t know, nor do I deal with
any of the multitude of quirky e-mail text formats. ASCII is good enough. I don’t put
underlined or bold text or unusual fonts in my e-mail and don’t want to see them in
messages sent to me, either.


It’s not that I’m paranoid. Probably no one would send me a malicious e-mail
attachment, but why take a chance opening my mailbox to fancy-font messages that might be
difficult to read anyway?


Netscape and Microsoft Corp. came up with immediate patches for their browsers, so the
harm, if any, was done to users’ confidence, not to their hard drives or their
privacy.


But the security holes can cause data damage if the recipient attempts to delete a
file. A malicious message arriving through a flawed mail program could cause damage even
if unopened. Apple Macintosh and Unix e-mail systems, as well as old MS-DOS communications
programs, are unaffected.


The trouble with the vendor patches, as we are learning in the year 2000 crisis, is
that users must get around to downloading and installing them. It isn’t something a
few Web server administrators can do.


To track e-mail security flaws and fixes, keep an eye on http://www.microsoft.com and
http://www.netscape.com. The situation changes almost daily, and any detailed fixes or
specific Web addresses could be outdated by the time you read this.


The lesson here is: Don’t be bashful. Insist that strangers who want to send you
messages put them in the message body, not in attachments. Delete messages with
attachments from strangers. Computer hardware and software are tools to get the job done.
Run them, don’t let them run you.


I’m all in favor of the latest technology where it’s appropriate, and I love
ever-faster computers with more memory and bigger hard drives. But if software works, why
change it?


Thanks to all the readers who responded to my WordPerfect column. I sympathize with
those who complained of being locked into networks and forced to upgrade when they could
have worked more efficiently in their old programs.


Agencies need to keep program versions consistent, but how much support do experienced
users require? It’s a real shame they can’t keep using their favorite tools.


Network managers should give serious thought to leaving legacy versions on the server
or client. Sure, it takes up storage, but new file formats always take more room than old
ones. And the users’ work, after all, matters more than the tools.


Letting some users stick with older software might save overall disk space in the long
run.


Managers who disagree should note that I did not receive a flood of e-mail from readers
who prefer and want to keep getting new word processors.


I asked one reader how he got away with continuing to use an old version. It turned out
that he is the boss and steers the costly upgrades to users who need and want them.


In my view, this man is a hero of government computing. He understands that scientists
and others must have the latest tools, but office workers might be better off not getting
expensive upgrades. 


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.

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