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Crave Talk: Use Macs Sophos? Are you mad?

Is antivirus company Sophos going slightly mad by advising consumers to shun the very platform that makes them millions?

Virus alerts from paranoid-sounding Internet security companies are about as predictable as viruses themselves. We've all seen how it unfolds: some 'skript kiddie' unleashes the 'Love Pole 3' worm on the 'unsuspecting' users of the Web; an anti-virus company sees an opportunity to grab some free publicity and out comes the spam-like caution: "BEWARE! NEW VIRUS THREATENS TO DESTROY FILES, EAT BABIES AND CAUSE METRO TO RUN FRONT-PAGE SCARE STORY!" Yawn.

The Crave team has pretty much tuned out these 'essential alerts', preferring instead to stay vigilant and regularly update our anti-virus software. But our ears perked up when Sophos came out with two bizarre statements in the last week -- first advising people to switch to Macs to escape viruses (despite the fact that much of its profits come from selling anti-virus products for Windows), and then discussing the 'plight' of a computer criminal who is to be extradited to the US.

We kid you not. Last Wednesday, Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, told the BBC that users should consider switching to Apple Macs, instead of using Windows-based PCs. Cluley was quoted as saying: "Macs will continue to be the safer place for computer users for some time to come... [That is] something that home users may wish to consider if they're deliberating about the next computer they should purchase."

That's a bit like British Airways telling passengers to use cruise ships because they're safer than planes. Equally strange was the fact that Sophos published the results of a self-commissioned poll asking IT professionals whether 'NASA hacker' Gary McKinnon should be extradited to the USA to face trial. The results were startling -- 52 per cent of those polled thought he should not be extradited. Since when did anti-virus firms start releasing findings that appear to generate sympathy for known computer criminals?

We can see the logic behind the Mac endorsement. When faced with danger it's a natural reaction to run away. Graham Cluley told us the two platforms could be likened to Baghdad and Bournemouth in terms of safety, but was quick to add that those who are capable of protecting themselves (by configuring firewalls and so on) should stick to Windows.

The chaps at McAfee and Norton must be looking at Sophos as the slightly drunk and outrageous uncle of the anti-virus family, blurting completely mad statements at a family barbecue. "Free the hackers and virus writers," says Uncle Sophos. "Then let the women and children hide behind their MacBooks while we lock and load our weapons!"

Crazy as it seems, this strategy probably won't hurt Sophos, as the company only sells anti-virus software to businesses (and the Mac-switching advice was issued to consumers). Indeed, its advice is more likely to annoy its consumer-focused rivals, and make consumers themselves see Sophos as the Robin Hood of anti-virus.

What do you think? Leave your comments below. -Rory Reid