I'm starting this as a new topic because in my opinion we need to think about this possibility (however remote it may be).
I'm certain all of you are aware that viruses can be a major problem with Windows. Some of you who were or are Windows users have not had virus problems. I know that GrannyGeek, who has used Windows since version 3.0, has not had problems with viruses or other malware. I imagine that other have had such problems. I myself used to have major virus problems back when I used Windows. On a number of occasions I had to do complete reinstalls of the OS because I couldn't get rid of the virus problems that I had.
As things are now, viruses are not a problem for Linux. I think that there are two main reasons for this: 1) Only root can install software on a Linux system (I know, except in your home directory, but right now I'm focusing on things that could affect an entire install), and 2) There aren't any Linux viruses (that last isn't strictly true - malware programs for Linux number in the hundreds).
Though it is hard to come by solid numbers for Windows viruses, there are at least tens of thousands and possibly over 100,000.
It's probable that many of you know that it can be difficult to get people to focus on the security of their computers. I know people who have bought machines with Norton installed who have turned off Norton because it slows down their machine, or who have failed to renew their subscriptions to Norton. Many of those same people have called me (sometimes in the middle of the night) because their virus load has become so high that their computers have become a big doorstop. These are also the people who find the Windows Vista "Allow/Deny?" pop-up so annoying that they find a way to turn it off.
Now, imagine this scenario. The "price break" (at least in the US) for consumer electronics is around $200. This means when the price of a particular product falls to $199.99, a whole lot more people are going to buy it than would before. With netbooks (Asus EEE etc.) we're either there or very close. I'm not saying this is going to make Linux extremely popular, but market share might increase dramatically, from the current below 1%.
If this happens, people are going to be even more annoyed at having to give a root password than they are by the "Allow/Deny" pop-up. I see two possible results: 1) People will buy the Windows versions of these inexpensive computers, and/or 2) Somebody will come up with a distro or version of a distro in which users have root privileges by default. If the second thing happens, then it's quite possible that Linux viruses could become a real problem.
I know that this isn't going to be a problem for us, since nobody who's been using Linux prior to this potential problem is going to give root privileges to regular users. Nevertheless, I think we as a community (the Linux community as it exists today) have a certain responsibility to at least consider this potential danger and think of possible solutions. After all, many of us have been saying for years that people should use Linux rather than Windows (I have said it quite a few times). If we urge people to do something, we are obliged to bear some of the burden of the consequences in the event that people do what we've been urging them to do.
If anybody is interested in discussing this issue, please post your thoughts.