May 31, 2010 11:26 pm

Google ditches Windows on security concerns

Google is phasing out the internal use of Microsoft’s ubiquitous Windows operating system because of security concerns, according to several Google employees.

The directive to move to other operating systems began in earnest in January, after Google’s Chinese operations were hacked, and could effectively end the use of Windows at Google, which employs more than 10,000 workers internationally.

“We’re not doing any more Windows. It is a security effort,” said one Google employee.

“Many people have been moved away from [Windows] PCs, mostly towards Mac OS, following the China hacking attacks,” said another.

New hires are now given the option of using Apple’s Mac computers or PCs running the Linux operating system. “Linux is open source and we feel good about it,” said one employee. “Microsoft we don’t feel so good about.”

In early January, some new hires were still being allowed to install Windows on their laptops, but it was not an option for their desktop computers. Google would not comment on its current policy.

Windows is known for being more vulnerable to attacks by hackers and more susceptible to computer viruses than other operating systems. The greater number of attacks on Windows has much to do with its prevalence, which has made it a bigger target for attackers.

Employees wanting to stay on Windows required clearance from “quite senior levels”, one employee said. “Getting a new Windows machine now requires CIO approval,” said another employee.

In addition to being a semi-formal policy, employees themselves have grown more concerned about security since the China attacks. “Particularly since the China scare, a lot of people here are using Macs for security,” said one employee.

Employees said it was also an effort to run the company on Google’s own products, including its forthcoming Chrome OS, which will compete with Windows. “A lot of it is an effort to run things on Google product,” the employee said. “They want to run things on Chrome.”

The hacking in China hastened the move. “Before the security, there was a directive by the company to try to run things on Google products,” said the employee. “It was a long time coming.”

The move created mild discontent among some Google employees, appreciative of the choice in operating systems granted to them - an unusual feature in large companies. But many employees were relieved they could still use Macs and Linux. “It would have made more people upset if they banned Macs rather than Windows,” he added.

Google and Microsoft compete on many fronts, from search, to web-based email, to operating systems.

While Google is the clear leader in search, Windows remains the most popular operating system in the world by a large margin, with various versions accounting for more than 80 per cent of installations, according to research firm Net Applications.

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