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Fear of hackers may make me play WoW on a Mac full-time


I use a Mac as my production machine. I don't want to get this too much into a Mac v. PC war, so lets just leave it with this: I find I am more productive with my workflows in OS X, and I have the added bonus of not worrying too much about what nasties are included in my downloads. I've been drinking Apple Kool-Aid from a sippy cup for over 10 years, so for me playing WoW on the Mac isn't some life-altering decision. My PC is nothing more than a game/media conversion console. But this whole hacking thing is making me think seriously of playing WoW on the Mac full-time. Sure, I've had WoW sessions of a decent length on my Mac, but not complete PC abstinence. In full disclosure mode, I've worked in IT for over ten years, and many of those years with a dotted-line relationship helping out our Security group. So, I've got a decent understanding of How Not Do Stupid Things On Your PC.

Back in my EverQuest days, we had "hacking" problems, but usually those could be traced back to someone doing stupid with his or her account: they used a powerleveling service or gave their password to a brother or guildie who then did something bad. With WoW, though, it seems much more nefarious. Sure, you give your password away you don't have much of a leg to stand on; I'm not going to say anyone deserves anything, but you've got no moral right to get indignant. Am I just reacting to this with a "oh noes, the sky is falling!" paranoia. Maybe. But when you hear of guild websites getting hacked to install keyloggers, peripherals shipping with keyloggers/viruses installed, it's tough to blame the user. There are always two sides to every story, but I'm getting the feeling there are a lot more true innocents in this battle, including our own Amanda Dean.

Sure, there are ways to help reduce your chances of getting hacked: use Firefox with the NoScript plug in and JavaScript disabled in the preferences. I did that, but enough allegedly legitimate sites use the scripting it's hard to get around it. No Javascript lasted a day on my work machine (which, of course, doesn't have WoW installed) before I got sick of hitting "yes, allow from this site." I felt like I was dealing with Vista's security, even though I've never used Vista.

Now the golden rule of AddOns has always been to not install ones that need a .exe. But what about AddOn managers like Ace Updater? What if something happens to that installer? Note: I am not in any way, shape or form insinuating that Ace Updater is installing keyloggers; I'm just using it as an example.

On the Mac side, I've got lots of built-in security. Because of how the OS works, installing keyloggers is a non issue. Simply put, because of its Unix underpinnings a lot of the meat of the OS is locked away; it's why Apple has been able to tout that it is more secure than Windows for years. A lot of people think that the Mac is more secure than Windows because of its lower install base. While that may once have been true, once Apple started the Get a Mac ads saying there are no viruses on OS X, you can bet the hacker community treated that as a gauntlet-throwing.

As a writer for a WoW website I can keep all of my tools on one computer. If I'm running Karazhan and take a nice screenshot (props to Krys for doing the same thing a while back) and decide a month from now I want to use it, it's on the same computer. Since I have a Macbook, I've got the same UI configuration no matter where I am. I play on the couch a lot, and end up going oh, yeah, that's right, I changed a macro on my PC and forgot to move it over. I'll admit, it's mostly laziness, but it'd be nice to have everything in one place.

Security and peace of mind would come at a performance visual quality that may be too tough to ignore. The Macbook has an integrated video card. To say the performance is a tad pokey is like saying a Yugo climbing Mt. Washington is a little hard on the engine. I get between 50-60 fps on max settings with my PC, about 13-25 on low settings with my Macbook (with the worst area being Ogri'La; I get less than 10 there). Sure, it's fine for gaming on the road or couch, but it's hard to justify the performance hit when I'm in my home office and both the Macbook and my PC go into the same monitor (I have a Dell widescreen monitor and my PC, Mac, and Xbox all hook into it -- obviously, not the one in the picture). There's also a big difference in graphics quality. The top screenshot is from my PC, the bottom screenshot is from the Macbook.




I'm still weighing it. WoW is the MMO I play most, so having it on my Mac isn't a bad thing. Ok, it's bad for my productivity. The 40 fps difference is huge, but most times I hug the mid-20 fps range which isn't too bad. Visual quality is an eye of the beholder thing; WoW certainly doesn't look horrid on the Macbook, it just doesn't look as sharp as on my PC -- the glow effect seems to be the big difference. If I had a Macbook Pro, yeah, I'd play WoW on it full-time. I'm not rushing out to buy one, but I may consider it next upgrade cycle.

What may happen is I stop surfing on the PC entirely. I rarely do, since my Mac is usually on when I'm gaming. Rather than take my risks with any sort of AddOn manager on the PC, I'll use WoW Matrix on the Mac and try and remember to copy over the updated AddOns. I'm going to keep experimenting for a few weeks and see which one I gravitate to more. In my spare time, I'll create artful hats made of tin foil.

How about you? Has all this hacking fear gotten you thinking of making "the switch?" What are you doing differently to prevent getting hacked?

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends

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