It's Trust that Makes the World Go Round

Bill Gates says it's time to learn to trust your computer.

Well, I love my computer, if you can call it love, but I don't trust it and I don't think I ever will.

This is because however advanced and impressive the technology, computers, in my experience, remain as fallible as ever. Like people, they have a habit of letting you down when you need them most.

If I appear mildly cynical, it's because all the technology in the world has rather let me down today and I've just missed my flight home from Dubai.

And if anyone happens to know where my e-mails are going, let me know, because I certainly don't.

Reliability and trust are, however, two very different ideals for those of us sitting with PCs in front of us. But most systems are reliable most of the time and life is no longer the unhappy lottery it once was with Windows 3.1 and its frequent "Unexpected Applications Errors".

Granted, then, that PCs work most of the time. Trust is, however, a different matter. Trusted computing does, of course, imply security or, at least, something resembling environmental integrity. It's something Microsoft has never been particularly good at in the past but plans to excel at in the future.

Sitting out here in the Middle East, trusted computing needs to be at the top of everyone's agenda, a message I've been giving governments and business in the region.

If you're going to have e-commerce and e-government, then these have to be built upon an infrastructure of trust, rather than simply the promise of better-than-average connectivity, "security first" being the operative sentiment.

The elusive problem lies in achieving end-to-end trust within an IT infrastructure, regardless of whether your business happens to sit in Riyadh or Reading.

So Microsoft can discover "trusted computing" in much the same way as it discovered networking and then, a little later, the Internet, but it's debatable whether such an overdue sense of evangelism will really do much more than encourage people to think more clearly about the risks associated with using Windows.

Over time, Microsoft products will present a much harder nut to crack, but it's going to take another three to five years before what's already out in the market and, in particular, the less developed world, is going to be replaced by more secure iterations of Windows XP and beyond.

So while the message from Mr Gates appears sensible, we all need to see evidence that skyrocketing cybercrime is on the decline and that business is putting a security policy first, rather than last, on its list of priorities.

Many of us are still far from feeling trust in Microsoft, but let's give the company 12 months to start proving that it can make a difference, or whether this is simply another marketing daydream.

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