Viruses could be good

Computer viruses are bad. There’s all manner of havoc they can wreak on unsuspecting users. Spyware, adware, popups, data loss, drones, hidden ftp sites, etc. etc. etc. And the talent required to write some of these viruses is astounding. Yes, there are some “script kiddies” who just cut and paste, but original virus authors are often brilliant and insightful programmers.
So what if the energy that creates computer viruses could be put to good use?
For instance, my colleagues and I have spent the last week debugging the HTML and CSS code from a relatively straightforward website design. CSS is great but the various browser implementations are not. Fix a problem for IE 5.x, watch a new problem appear in Firefox. Fix a problem for IE 6.x, watch your Netscape 6.x support tank. To be blunt: This is a major drag on productivity and lessens the utility of CSS. Plus, it totally sucks to work on problems like this — it feels like a waste of human potential. From the client’s perspective it was very expensive to get this right. Most clients can’t afford this level of detail.
Further, even if the latest browsers and offer good standards support, the installed base of existing browsers is vast and few will ever be updated. My parents are not ever going to update their home computer browser unless I show up and do it for them. Most users won’t deal with it. Looking at the web traffic logs for a small northeastern college, I see that Netscape 2.0 hit for 1,574 sessions (out of a total of ~600,000) — and Netscape 2.0 was current in 1995!?!?
But what if you could write a virus that patched browsers and fixed the incompatibilities? What if a virus writer was clever enough to figure out how to patch the dreaded 4.x browsers to update their HTML/CSS rendering engines to bring standards compliance?
This would be a real win, and welcomed by the web design community. The virus writer who pulled this off would be a hero, and could write their own ticket at any computer programming job in the world. It could be the basis for a hugely successful commercial product. Thousands of hours, worldwide, every month, would be saved by this work. The art and practice of website design could advance to greater creativity because instead of spending 40% of the design budget working around browser bugs, that effort could go toward better visuals, more usability testing, or better photography.
If you are a virus writer wasting your time figuring out how to steal bandwidth to store p*rn on someone’s computer, instead consider figuring out how to infect every computer in the world with a good HTML/CSS rendering engine. You’ll end up on the cover of Wired, web design babes (and/or dudes) will fall all over you, and you’ll have enough money to buy Fiji. I kid you not, this is a real opportunity.