Thanks for the misinformation, Disney

In one of its throwaway kid’s sitcoms, Disney insinuates that open source software contains spyware and using it is a ‘rookie mistake’.

Open source software rarely contains viruses or spyware. Since it’s open for examination, changes to the code that have any funny business in them tend to be rejected. For that matter, code with unintended bad consequences tends to either be rejected, or quickly changed.

It’s free, closed-source software that you have to worry about, since nobody’s watching the externals, and all you have to rely on is black-box analysis to ensure it’s safe. I’m not immediately aware of Disney releasing any bad software, but Disney ally Sony planted a malicious rootkit on some audio CDs a few years back. If you’ve wondered why it used to be OK to listen to your audio CDs at work and now it isn’t anymore, that’s why.

I hope this is just a case of Disney employing a writer who repeated something he or she misheard. I hope.

Computer security is something we need to pay attention to, but misinformation is a bad thing, even when it appears in forgettable, disposable children’s shows. This stuff gets repeated, and when you repeat enough things enough times, people start to believe it. That’s why commercials work.

The truth: I actually tell people to avoid free software unless it’s open source, and downloaded directly from the project’s official web site. I’ve been saying and practicing this for a decade, and I have had one–count it, one–antivirus popup notification in 15 years at home. I’m not talking infections–I’m talking one blocked infection.

And besides that, open-source software is everywhere. You use open-source software every day, even if you don’t run Linux on your computer. Both Windows and Mac OS X borrowed significant amounts of code from an open-source family of operating systems called BSD. Don’t worry, what they did was perfectly legal, and perhaps even encouraged. If you have an HDTV, it contains an embedded computer that’s most likely stuffed with open-source software. Mine is. If you have a wireless router connecting your computers to the Internet, that device is most likely stuffed with open-source software too. If your cell phone is an Iphone or if it runs Android, it’s stuffed with open-course software too.

For that matter, Disney’s own web site is powered at least in part by an open-source program called Apache. Rookie mistake indeed.

Do as they do, not as they say.

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