Why Don’t they just Upgrade, Already..?!?

Is it me, or does this seem like it would be a no brainer??

I’ve been in IT for a LONG time. I cut my teeth on Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows 98SE. Microsoft’s Windows XP days were some of my biggest hay days because I wrote literally THOUSANDS of tips covering ALL of these Windows versions and Office 95 – 97 and Office 2000 – 2007 during my tenure there. When I got through it, I was – and still am – one of the more knowledgeable Windows pundits out there.

Given all of the ransomware recently targeting older machines running unsupported versions of Windows – like Windows XP and Windows 8, a lot of people are starting to point fingers at others trying to figure out who exactly is at fault. Some blame Microsoft, because they’re Microsoft, because they run 97% plus of all the computers that run the businesses of the world, and because they have bazillions of dollars. Others blame the IT departments and workers in those businesses for not either abandoning those outmoded operating systems for something more modern.

My former co-worker Paul Thurrott had this to say in his 2017-05-19 Short Takes:

WannaCry is not Microsoft’s fault

If you’re looking to point the finger of blame for WannaCry, I think we can find some better culprits than Microsoft. For example, the hackers responsible for this attack are an obvious place to start. The businesses—which include hospitals and other medical facilities, banks, and more—that are still inexplicably running Windows XP and putting their customer’s data in harm’s way. And yes, sorry, also the over-cautious IT staffs at businesses around the world who delay Microsoft security patches for far too long because they are in some cases trying to justify their employment or have just lost sight of what’s really important in the risk/benefit debate around Windows patching. I know it’s not everyone. But the sheer scope of this attack says a lot about how we do things. And it says almost nothing about Microsoft except that, in this case, they did the right thing. Stop deflecting the blame.

There are a number of issues in Paul’s quote – as well as other mitigating circumstances – that I want to touch on, but let’s start at the beginning… There are a lot of folks out there that may not know what WannaCry is.

WannaCry is a serious strain of malware/ ransomware targeting Windows PC’s worldwide. The attacks from this nasty bug started on Friday 2017-05-12. The bug was targeted at computers and systems running Windows XP and Windows 8 machines, and while it effected systems around the world, it was initially targeted at the UK’s National Health Service. Infected machines had their data encrypted and users were locked out, unable to access any data on any connected drive or system.

This originated as a phishing attack. Meaning that someone emailed a potential target a message with an infected attachment . That person opened the attachment, releasing the virus. The hackers responsible demanded $300USD in bitcoin to unencrypt the effected machines. Aside from the UK’s NHS, Germany’s rail system, Renault and Nissan factories, FedEx, Spanish telecom Telefonica, and even Russia’s central bank got hit by the data encrypting malware. In the end, well over 300,000 computers were infected globally.

There are a couple of things of note here:

  1. Why are these Older Systems Still Out there?
    To be blunt, there could be a number of reasons – The company using the machine doesn’t want to spend the money to replace the system, or they don’t have the money to replace the system because (reasons).More than likely, the effected machine is a legacy system sitting on a medical device or label printer or some other mission critical piece of equipment that is ONLY guaranteed to run on certain versions of an operating system, and the company that owns it can’t afford to replace it because nothing else like it is available; or they can’t find a way around the loss of the machine to their business process, or some other cost prohibitive reason that mandates that THAT specific machine stays exactly where it is, doing that one specific thing that the company can’t seem to live without.I’ve seen this happen at hospitals with ultrasound machines or some other medical device that can’t be replaced or upgraded due to licensing, budget or other cost based issues. I’ve also seen this happen in industrial settings (like the cited FedEx example, above) where there’s one piece of equipment that only runs software/ drivers that are compatible with a specific version of Windows and the business can’t or won’t replace it due to cost, or some other reason.As of this writing no known US government systems have been infected.
  2. Why haven’t the IT Department Updated/ Upgraded these Systems?This is a multi-faceted issue. No matter how you slice this issue, the effected IT department carries a large part of the blame. In some cases, the IT department got overruled and management has opted to roll the dice and risk getting hit by malware. However, Microsoft itself is also partially to blame, here. Allow me to elaborate…Microsoft has a huge history of releasing security patches and then patches for those patches because their testing process failed to account for every driver of every peripheral possibly attached to any and every partner, OEM’ed version of Windows out there. In other words, no matter how extensively Microsoft’s QA department tests, they’re always going to miss testing some testing some edge cases and that causes stuff to break in the wild.So, because there’s so many different kinds of computers that can work with some many different kinds of devices and peripherals, Microsoft can’t release patches without breaking something, somewhere.As a result, many IT departments/ businesses unwilling to risk having some mission critical piece of equipment going down due to a bad or faulty patch being applied opt NOT to patch, leaving their systems buggy and vulnerable to attack.

    IT departments are also largely unwilling to apply patches to every day production machines without the “proper” amount of testing being completed in their own test labs, prior to deployment. In fact, in many cases, Microsoft releases patches for previous patches and instead of updating their systems and living with the new problems (which could be bigger problems than the ones they’re currently living with), they wait for “early adopters” to discover them. These wait and see IT departments gain the benefit of avoiding new bugs and issues at the expense of remaining unpatched and vulnerable to known vulnerabilities.

    For them, patching Windows has historically been a lose-lose game.

So, given all of this mess, what SHOULD you do?

That’s simple –

  1. Stop running an unsupported operating system.
    Even though Microsoft patched the WannaCry exploit months ago and also provided patches for Windows XP and Windows 8 (even when they said they weren’t going to provide patches for those OS’ any longer), the best thing that you can do is find a way off the out dated, unsupported platform.
  2. Update Your Mission Critical Components
    In the case of mission critical hardware requiring drivers or other middleware only rated to run on older machines/ operating systems – find a way to live without them. Period. Change the business process, change operating systems/ platforms… do SOMETHING other than staying where you’re at. While it may be costly, in the end, it’s going to be cheaper than figuring out how to disinfect or decrypt effected systems
  3. Upgrade Already!
    Microsoft is never going to allow the circumstances that allowed Windows XP to stay on the market for 15 or so years to recur again. It’s YOUR business’ responsibility to figure out how they’re going to get you from one major OS version to another without killing the company’s productivity.WannaCry doesn’t target Windows 10. It also doesn’t work on patched systems.

So, is my PC at risk?

Your PC is at risk if its running

  • Windows Vista
  • Windows 8.x
  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Windows Server 2012
  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Windows Server 2016

If you’re running Windows XP, you need to upgrade immediately. If you’re running any of these other operating systems, Microsoft has issued patches to prevent WannaCry from infecting your system. Run the patch or upgrade your computer.

Regardless of which version of Windows you’re using, you need to make certain you’re up to date on all of your security patches.

OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about Paul’s statements and wrap this all up.

It’s not all Microsoft’s fault
There are literally hundreds if not thousands of different kinds of Windows compatible peripherals out there that require some kind of driver or middleware to work and Microsoft can’t buy and test them all. When you start working out the different permutations on all of these, it’s easy to get dizzy very fast. The best anyone can expect from Microsoft is to test those combinations that seem to be the most popular. After that, you’re on your own.

IT Departments Need to Upgrade
Debugging Windows problems can be a huge headache. The biggest way to avoid the problems is to not patch in many cases. Not everyone is going to get hit by every problem out there, so reducing cost by increasing risk can save a lot of time, money and headaches. However, when issues do arise, they tend to be big ones…

If your computer has been infected, you have a couple of options

  1. Restore from an Uninfected Backup
    Having a redundant backup plan is important. If you’re hit by WannaCry or any other virus and can’t get clean, restoring from a known, good backup may get you back up and running quickly. If you don’t have a redundant backup plan (local backup, local backup of backup and off site backup) figure one out now.
  2. Blow the Machine and Start Over
    Cutting your losses and starting over may be the only option you have, especially if you don’t have an uninfected backup to restore to. In this case, starting over is likely your only option. This may be less painful if you have your data stored on a cloud service like Drop Box, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive. That way, with all of your data easily resyncable to your computer, all you need to do is install the OS, reinstall your apps and download all of your data. This is somewhat similar to the work in option #1, above.

The last thing you’ll need to do is make certain you have an anti-malware package installed and running on your machine. Having an offline anti-malware scanner for when you get bugs that your regular scanner can’t remove is also helpful.

Did you or anyone you know get hit by WannaCry? Have you ever gotten hit by any kind of ransomware or other piece of malware that basically killed your access to your computer and all of your data? Did you pay the ransom? Did you get your data back? Did the hacker make you pay more than once? How did you get rid of the infection? I’d love to hear about your situation, in detail. Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area, below and tell me all about it?

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No New Windows 10 Builds until it Works…

Apparently, there’s a nasty bug that Microsoft is chasing…

No New Windows 10 Builds until it Works...

During a beta period, a tester or test manager should always expect to find bugs and, more importantly to expect run with buggy software. It’s never really end user ready, despite the fact that you’re opening your user base up to a wider audience.

Case in point – Microsoft has opened up Windows 10 to its Windows Insiders.  You can get prerelease builds of Windows on the Fast, Slow and Release Preview rings.

  • Fast Ring – You get (nearly) every build that Microsoft releases to its Insider program.  While there’s a lot of churn here, you get the most builds, and you’ll also likely see the most bugs. Builds are released almost every other week.
  • Slow Ring – Slow Ring is more stable than Fast Ring, but you don’t see as much churn. Things are still buggy; but there’s a bit more polish than with Fast Ring. While there’s still risk with Slow Ring, but with the right hardware combinations, it can still be very usable.
  • Release Preview – You can think of builds released in this ring being of Release Candidate quality.  This gets you things early, but nearly everything here is production ready, or can be considered Production Ready. Builds hit here a week or two before this hits Windows Update for everyone else.

So, with this model in mind, last week (as of this writing), Windows Insider guru Gabe Aul stated that there wouldn’t be any new builds of Windows 10 to the Fast Ring due to a bug that needed additional development time and attention.

According to Aul, there’s a bug in both Mobile and PC versions of Windows 10 that causes system crashes (what we used to call the Blue Screen of Death). Thankfully, the defect was caught before it hit Fast Ring (so, by Microsoft’s internal testing team), and as such, the details on the bug are sketchy at best. All we know is that it causes PC’s and phones to crash.

UPDATE – While writing this article, Microsoft released Insider Preview Build 14342 on 2016-05-10.  The updated build includes the following:

  • Updated Extensions in Microsoft Edge
  • Real-Time Web Notifications in Edge
  • Swipe navigation in Edge
  • Bash on Ubuntu on Windows Improvements
  • Skype Universal Windows Platform (UWP) Update
  • Updated Windows Ink Workspace Icon
  • Updated Visuals for UAC (User Account Control) dialog
  • Middle click to dismiss Action Center
  • Apps for Websites
  • Feedback Hub Improvements

The crashing bug noted above, has been resolved.

Are you installing preview builds of Windows 10?  How do you find the latest builds?  Are they worth the time and effort? Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion Area, below, and give me your thoughts on them?

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Microsoft Releases Surface Hub

The long awaited update to Microsoft’s Perceptive Pixel PC’s has finally shipped.

Surface-hub-1

This is a huge deal for the enterprise…

One of the things that I like the most about my current job and role in IT is that my company has a Windows 8.x powered Perceptive Pixel PC.  It sits in one very specific conference room, and quite honestly, I tend to live in that room, mostly because of this particular PC.

Perceptive Pixel is Surface Hub, before it was Surface Hub.  The update and launch of this device has been a long time coming, and Microsoft’s General Manager of Devices Marketing, Brian Hall said, “… our Surface team works together better because we have Surface Hub.”

The difference between Perceptive Pixel and Surface Hub is that PP is really a giant Surface Pro 3 styled touch screen.  Surface Hub is really more of an interactive whiteboard. It’s really designed to take advantage of Windows 10 and incorporates collaboration tools like Skype for Business, Office, including OneNote, and Windows Universal apps (if any of note actually existed…but I digress…)

Surface Hub can be mounted on a wall or movable stand and resembles a flat screen television but with a touch screen; and really has little to no difference than Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book.  Microsoft is targeting the device for the enterprise in the fields of healthcare, manufacturing, automotive, consulting, defense, finance and education.  However, it’s really going to work well in any corporate setting.  Not only does it allow physical attendees to interact with it, but via Skype for Business, even remote meeting attendees can use its interactive and collaboration features.

In today’s fast paced business environments that often include distributed teams, having the ability to have everyone see what you’re seeing at the same time as well as collectively and collaboratively interacting with meeting resources and files – sometimes at the SAME time – is going to be a huge productivity boosting benefit.

Surface Hub is said to come in two flavors – an 55″ model and an 84″ model.  Prospective pricing was announced for the devices about this time a year ago.  The 1080p equipped, 55″ model will cost $6,999 USD and the 4k capable, 84″ model will cost $19,999.  The devices actually started shipping in March 2016 (as opposed to the original September 2015), and have also seen a price increase over their initial pricing.  The 55″ device cost $8,999 and the 84″ device cost $21,999.

Now… I wonder how easy it will be to upgrade our Perceptive Pixel PC here in the office…?

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Initial Impressions of Windows 10 Mobile

Well… I’ve upgraded my BLU WIN HD LTE handset…, and… yeah.

Introduction

Ok… I’ve got a few thoughts on Windows 10 Mobile, and I need for everyone to understand the justification behind them, so… bear with me a moment.  This may sound a bit critical, but in the end, I don’t think anyone can blame me…

Windows 10 MobileI started my mobile Windows journey in 1997 with the Casio E10, a WindowsCE powered handheld device that had a 320×240 pixel, 4 grayscaled LCD that received electrical power via 2 AAA batteries.  WindowsCE itself was released by Microsoft in 1996 at COMDEX.  The OS was meant to power handheld computers and act as an embedded OS for other industrial applications. Comparatively speaking, while the devices weren’t really cutting edge, even for the day, they (and the Palm Pilot) were an advancement in computing technology that were the precursors to all mobile devices including all smartphones on the market today.

I got involved early, becoming quite the expert in nearly all versions of WindowsCE, PocketPC and Windows Mobile, prior to it being totally scrapped and changed for Windows Phone.  In fact, I became so competent, I was able to craft my own option ROM’s for PocketPC devices  to use after a hard reset (so all my third party apps would install, as hard resets were a common practice to resolve technical glitches caused by bad third party apps). I also got into flashing alternative ROM’s and OS builds on my Windows Mobile devices.  You couple that with a lot of my desktop Windows experience, and I feel I have a solid basis from which to rate an evaluatory impression on Windows 10 Mobile…

Here it is – meh.  And honestly, I’m being generous. Here’s why…

  • Universal Apps
    In short… where the heck are they? There may be some available and in the Windows Store, but they certainly don’t exist in the numbers and volume that Microsoft was hoping for this far into the release and support of Windows 10.The whole advantage to Windows 10, at least from  Microsoft’s advertised position to its developer community, is that you can write one (1) app, and it should work on every version of Windows 10 and every device that runs it, regardless of screen size or version.  That’s (supposed) to be the draw for developers and Windows 10, code once, run everywhere.  That’s a “universal” app.Unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of universal apps in the Windows Store, and I don’t see a lot of developers flocking to the universal app banner.  With developers still ignoring Windows 10 and this new development platform, I’m wondering where the draw is for consumers to choose Windows 10 Mobile over iOS or Android.  Quite honestly, as a consumer, I don’t see it.Consumers want apps. We want games. We want utility apps or “task-oriented” apps (I want to do my banking, I want to buy something from <pick a store>, I want to play <a game>…) With Windows Phone/ Windows 10 Mobile, there’s a really great chance that the app or tool you’re looking for, doesn’t exist on that platform; and won’t. PeriodHere’s the capper, though – according to an article published about a year or so ago on Business Insider, the Universal App platform has issue and problems.  Microsoft also hasn’t really given developers a genuine reason to build Universal Windows Apps (hence, the reason why, a year later, you don’t really see any in the Windows Store…)

    Universal Apps are really a boon for the mobile platform.  The idea here is that Microsoft gets apps for its mobile-powered devices when developers move to the Universal App Platform.  However, regular PC apps and PC development platforms like Visual Studio continue to work just fine, so, there’s no real reason for any developer to change what they’re doing.

    A year after its release, there really aren’t any Universal Apps to speak of, and with Windows 10 Mobile now released to the wild (as of this time last month), the absence of Universal Apps is a huge hole, and one that is made additionally glaring due to Windows Phone’s dismal, global market share of just 1.1%.

    (Interestingly enough, while doing research for this article, I stumbled on a TON of articles dated 2012 that had the IDC predicting that Windows Phone would surpass iOS in global market share by 2016.  Ouch.  That was a bit of miss, wouldn’t you say?)

  • Nokia Here Apps are Gone
    This is a crushing blow to the platform.  One of the biggest reasons why I really liked the Windows Phone/ Windows 10 Mobile platform was in no small part due to Nokia’s Here apps.I used Drive (part of Here Maps) for my daily commute, as it memorized the commute route and then gave you traffic reports and guidance along it so that you could get to work on time.  The Windows Phone version is the only version that does this.  Other versions of Drive on other mobile platforms do the routing thing, but the Windows Phone version was the only one that did the route memorization and advanced alerts.However, with Drive and the rest of Nokia’s HERE Apps NOT coming to Windows 10 Mobile, this is just another reason, from a consumer’s point of view, to ignore the platform.By the way, according to Nokia, the reasoning behind this…  The Universal Apps platform, and the absence of a few key API’s no longer supported by Windows 10 (again, in favor of the Universal Apps platform).  Regardless of how much Nokia asked (dare I say, “begged??”) Microsoft NOT to deprecate these key API’s, Microsoft did it anyway, and hence… bye-bye HERE Apps.This definitely seems to be a case of Microsoft cutting off its nose to spite its face.  I also see this as a fatal move for the platform and is a certain sign that the end is near. If Nokia (of all companies…NOKIA!) abandons Windows Phone, then I have no reason to believe it’s going to survive much past 2017.
  • Windows 10 UI Advantage?
    Yeah… there isn’t any really.  Not on mobile, anyway.The UI on Windows 10 mobile is the tile interface, and that really dominates anything and everything on a Windows Mobile device and has really, since Windows Phone 7.  Microsoft really didn’t make any global UI changes of any note, in my opinion, except for what they did to Settings.On the desktop side of the Windows 10 world, they totally redesigned Settings and changed the way it looks on both Desktop and Mobile. While the mobile side of the world isn’t 100% identical to what you see on the desktop side (and vice-versa…) they’re similar enough for you to be able to not only see the similarities; but to use one vs. the other without any issues or problems.Other than this, however, I really don’t see a consumer based advantage to having the same UI on all Windows 10 devices.  From my perspective, a Windows Phone is still a Windows Phone; and as much as I may like the UI from a mobile perspective – and I do – it ain’t buyin’ me anything.  The Advantage to the same OS, regardless of platform was supposed to be Windows’ Universal Apps, and we all know how well THAT’S turned out (or do I have to go into it again..?  No??  Ok…)

Conclusion

Let’s face it bubba… Windows 10 Mobile is a total and complete bust.

There aren’t any – and in my opinion unless developers worldwide have some sort of, uh-hem, universal epiphany about Universal Apps – there won’t be any Universal Apps for Windows that will make any kind of difference, or lasting impression.  There certainly won’t be any that make Android or iOS users dump their devices for Windows Phone in general.

With Nokia HERE apps – and especially the Windows Mobile specific version of Here Drive – taking a powder from the platform completely by the end of June (meaning that they’re going to stop working for Windows Phone 8.x devices, too), one of the biggest draws to the platform is now totally gone.  Nokia is recommending that all former HERE Maps users on both OS versions look to Windows Maps (a horrible mapping, solution, BTW… Same maps, but rotten UI) for all future mapping and navigation needs.

Finally, without a real compelling UI advantage over Windows Phone 8.x, I not only don’t see the real need or desire for current users to upgrade existing devices; there’s no real drive for new users to make Windows 10 Mobile their OS of choice over an Android or iOS device.

I mean, Windows 10 may be familiar – and that may be a good thing from a desktop computing experience point of view – but from a mobile computing perspective, familiar isn’t compelling.

Its familiar.  That’s it; and familiar is boring.  Familiar isn’t going to make people drop their iPhone or cutting edge Android FLAGSHIP phone for what really only appears to be a mid-range Windows 10 Mobile device (as there really aren’t any compelling Windows 10 Mobile Flagship phones available, despite what Microsoft may have released with Nokia branding…)

I don’t mean to be down on Windows Phone or Windows 10 Mobile.  I really don’t. As I said at the beginning of this whole hullabaloo – I cut my teeth on Microsoft Mobile Devices.  This is really my platform.

The problem is, not only is Microsoft a little too little, a little too late; they’re really just in the way now.  They’re noise… they’re an annoying gnat that you’ve been trying to swat out of your face for a while now, and just won’t go away or die.

It’s sad really, but like Blackberry – who once totally OWNED the mobile device market 10-12 years ago – Windows Phone just needs to go away so that the rest of us can just move on.

It’s over kids.  These really aren’t the Droids you’re looking for…

Agree or disagree with me?  Am I missing something that really needs to be brought to light here?  Are there other nails that need to be jackhammered into the Windows 10 Mobile coffin?  Have I missed the mark, if even by a little bit..?

If so, I would REALLY welcome your input and your comments in the Discussion area below.  This has been a bit painful for me to write and to admit to not only myself, but to say out loud to all of you as well.

I really don’t want to be right on this one, man; but I can’t help but think that I am.  I mean , I know I predicted  the demise of Windows Phone just over six months ago; but predictions can often be wrong and miss the mark. The more that I look at all of this – all of the evidence – I can’t help but think that I’m right; and I really don’t want to be.

As I said, meet me in the Discussion area and give me your thoughts…or at least pass me a box of Kleenex…

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Uninstall QuickTime for Windows – QUICK!

That is, if you want to remain virus free…

Uninstall QuickTime for Windows

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been a bit absent from Soft32.com, not because I wanted to and not because there wasn’t cool stuff to write about, but because real life intruded.  It’s always an interesting time when real life gets in the way, especially for those of us that have routines.  Thankfully, though, I didn’t have THIS problem to deal with – more malware.

However, if you’re an iDevice user on the Windows side of things, you’ll remember that iTunes historically always wanted you to install QuickTime for Windows. It used to play all video out of iTunes via QuickTime.

That, my friends, has changed.

Apple is no longer using QuickTime for Windows to play video in iTunes and apparently, has also stopped issuing security patches for it as well. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t tell anyone about this.  This was picked up and reported by Trend Micro and their Zero Day Intuitive; and has been making quite the stir ever since.

Trend Micro released the following statement on the issue:

“Apple is deprecating QuickTime for Microsoft Windows. They will no longer be issuing security updates for the product on the Windows Platform and recommend users uninstall it… Our Zero Day Initiative has just released two advisories ZDI-16-241 and ZDI-16-242 detailing two new, critical vulnerabilities affecting QuickTime for Windows. These advisories are being released in accordance with the Zero Day Initiative’s Disclosure Policy for when a vendor does not issue a security patch for a disclosed vulnerability. And because Apple is no longer providing security updates for QuickTime on Windows, these vulnerabilities are never going to be patched. We’re not aware of any active attacks against these vulnerabilities currently. But the only way to protect your Windows systems from potential attacks against these or other vulnerabilities in Apple QuickTime now is to uninstall it.”

While nearly everyone should have seen a number of third party reports to this effect, there’s no information on Quick Time for Windows’ demise coming from Apple.  They just seem to have flushed it, and moved on.

Those Mac users in the audience don’t have anything to worry about. Apple doesn’t seem to be deprecating or ending support of Quick Time for Mac, just the Windows variety.

It is highly recommended to everyone who uses Quick Time for Windows, to remove it from their Windows PC’s immediately.

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Take control of the heart of your computer with this Ashampoo HDD Control

Take control of the heart of your computer with this essential Windows utility.HDC-01

Your hard drive is the heart of your computer. If the CPU is the brain, then your hard drive is definitely the heart. It pumps information throughout your PC and allows you to perform and complete tasks that can make your life a lot easier. However, like any body, when the heart is sick, the body can’t do well. This is why you need to keep your PC’s heart – your hard drive – working as well as it can. This is where applications like Ashampoo’s HDD Control come in. It’s a Windows app that can help you keep your hard drive working at its best possible ability.

Ashampoo HDD Control monitors, maintains and defragments hard drives. The software supports not only all common IDE and SATA hard drives, but also provides improved support for external USB hard drives and SSD’s. The extended user interface gives an overview of the status of your hard drive’s health, performance and temperature. It also offers lots of technical information on the drive’s supported features and current status. The software supports S.M.A.R.T and will check for electric and mechanic problems of hard drives as well as adjustment of the noise level and power management, if supported by the drive.

With just a few clicks, HDD Control finds unused files and Internet traces, and then delete the data, with support for different erasing methods. If something goes south and you accidentally remove the wrong information from your drive, HDD Control can also help you get it back. Once you’ve got the space you need, the app can also proactively defragment your drive as well.

Speaking of SSD’s, HDD Control works well with Windows-based SSD’s. Its Duplicate Finder can help locate and delete duplicate files so you don’t waste space on these limited volumes. You can use its filtering mechanism to search for specific file types and extensions, to help you keep a handle on your disk usage.

Ashampoo HDD Control bundles all of the essential information about your PC’s hard drive on its start screen in a clear and concise manner. From here, you have a clear, detailed picture of the state of your drives within seconds and can take instant action of you need to.

The app’s history view can show you drive’s long term performance trends and allow you to predict if and when your drive may fail. You’ll be able to take the appropriate precautions in order to save your data from corruption or overall drive failure.

The app’s interface is non-standard; but it’s a decent application and it does a great job of keeping an eye on your drive and its performance. The app is a bit on the expensive side by today’s prices, but if you’ve got a home network and have a great deal of storage on it, this could be the tool that helps you keep things running at peak performance.

Download

 

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What Windows 10 SHOULD Be

Windows 10 is supposed to be Microsoft’s future…

Untitled

I’ve been using Windows 10 on my Surface Pro for a while now.  While I haven’t had many of the Explorer.exe crashes that others have been having, I have been banging on it hard enough to develop an opinion or two.

To be honest, so far… I’m not that impressed.  I know that Microsoft REALLY needs to hit a homerun here.  They’re pretty much betting the [relevance] farm on it.  If it tanks, it’s going to be a really bad 2015 in Redmond.  But that’s just me…  There’s a lot going on with Windows 10, and (un?)fortunately, we haven’t seen everything.

At least not yet…

To be honest, even though I have been covering the Microsoft ecosystem since 1997, and I’ve written a lot for media organizations like AOL/CompuServe, InformationWeek, Computer Power User Magazine, WUGNET – The Windows User’s Group Network and LockerGnome, among other online and international print publications, I still haven’t broken into that “insider,” inner circle like Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott, even though Paul and I worked together at WUGNET in the late 1990’s.

So when it comes to the inside track, I trust Paul and Mary Jo explicitly.  Period.

So again, while I wasn’t impressed with the current state of Windows 10, what I’m hearing from both Paul and Mary Jo is to sit tight.  According to Paul, Windows 10 is coming into focus.  His recent statements reminded me of what most everyone in the Windows Insider Program heard from the very beginning – what you see now, isn’t the final state of the software.

This is a good thing, because as I said, Windows 10 currently has “work in progress” stamped ALL over it.  The last formally released build – Build 9879 – was pretty much a train wreck.  For many Insiders, the OS crashed all the time, requiring them to reboot multiple times a day.  When Microsoft did release a fix, it wouldn’t install for many; and in many cases, users wouldn’t know if the patch install had failed until they looked at the Windows’ Update History to see which updates had successfully installed or had failed. The fact that the patch was continually presented over and over again as an available update *did* tip most of us off; but to be honest, it could also have been Microsoft issuing additional, related updates.

So, what is Microsoft wanting Windows 10 to be?  That’s simple – the future of their desktop and mobile platform.  Notice… I didn’t say, “platforms.”

Platform… as in singular.

Microsoft is looking to completely unify its portable (meaning tablet), mobile (meaning phone) and desktop experiences into a single OS that will only install and run the bits that are appropriate for the hardware its running on.  This convergence is a complete departure from over 30 years of business practice; and as such, they’re having the problems that most everyone is seeing in the (tech) news.

In fact, Larry Seltzer has a huge article detailing some real Microsoft Update Missteps that is worth a read.  Things are changing at Microsoft, and what’s going on with Windows 8.x and with some of the official and leaked builds of Windows 10 speaks to the many development related paradigm shifts going on over at Microsoft.

At least they’re trying to change.

However, with everything that’s happening – the Windows 8.x Update missteps, the buggy internal and external Windows 10 builds, the Surface Pro 3 Wi-Fi issues, many – me included – are wondering who is steering the Microsoft Release Management Ship.  At the very least, I think most are chalking this up to a change of CEO, but honestly, by this time, most of those hurdles should be cleared.

So, what does Microsoft need to Windows 10 to be..?

They need it to be a success. Windows 10 needs to be a unifying platform that doesn’t require all of the “legacy related, DOS-world” tweaking. It needs to just work out of the box, regardless of platform – tablet, phone or desktop.

Windows 10, more I think than Windows 7 did, needs to be sexy. It needs to lure users back to a user experience that provides a known, familiar feel, while providing a unified, POPULATED ecosystem where users can buy not only applications, but media content – audio, video and apps – without being totally disjointed. It needs a developer community that embraces it, with support from Microsoft as well as hardware vendors, alike.

Windows 10 needs to run Office 2010 and later – including Office 365 – without any burps or issues, as not everyone wants to upgrade or wants to buy a subscription to the productivity platform.

More than anything… Windows 10 needs to be dirt cheap. On the consumer side, that means free… as in zero dollars and zero cents.  On the enterprise side, Microsoft needs to figure out how to sell OS licensing that makes sense for IT departments who don’t jump on the newest version OS because they don’t want new, untested bits to tank their company’s productivity and profits.

Microsoft needs to look at service and support on both the consumer and enterprise side of the equation, and they need to figure out a better life cycle that ends support and moves people to the most current bits in a manner that doesn’t cause a massive revolt.  The OS needs to be solid, stable, and near bug free for those folks so they move without worry, and with confidence that, again – everything just works.

THAT kids… That’s a big order to fill.

However, I really think that if Microsoft doesn’t do it, and do it quickly, decisively and without any of the current drama, at least at some point, they’re going to force users into looking into alternatives.  That means, alternative platforms, alternative productivity tools, and internal servers, middleware and other enterprise related software.

Microsoft is sitting on the edge of a very sharp knife named, “Change.”  If they don’t embrace it and do its bidding, I think they’re really risking a LOT.

What do you think?  Have you used Windows 10?  Are you a Windows 8.x user experiencing update confusion and issues?  Are you considering a move to Windows 10?  Will you stay on Windows 7 until they pry it out of your cold, dead fingers (or until you buy a new PC and HAVE to take it)?  Or, will you simply move to another computing platform like Linux or Mac?

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below and give me your thoughts on the whole thing. I’d love to hear what you have to say, and to see if I’m on target, or all wet…

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Windows 10 Features – Much ado about… Nothing?

What’s all the fuss about Windows 10 core features..?

Windows 10

Over the past few days I’ve seen a few articles on Windows 10 cool and unknown features; and while I will spend a few moments going over some of the bigger stuff of note in the upcoming OS, quite honestly… I’m wondering what all the hullaballoo is about.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that Microsoft’s marketing machine has to pump up the volume on Windows 10 somehow. Unfortunately, they can’t simply go with:

Windows 10 – It doesn’t suck like Windows 8 did.

So yeah… they have to say SOMETHING positive about it that doesn’t speak to just the code tweaks and optimizations that you’re going to find under the hood. Unfortunately, Windows 10 really IS all about not sucking like Windows 8…which, by the way only sucked because the UI – or User Interface – was so horrible. If you could get past that, Windows 8 ran well and would run on a LOT of budget class, legacy hardware.

The vision for Windows 8 was to be a bridging OS that got users used to the idea that computing was shifting away from a post 1990’s traditional, put a program in a movable box on a screen, metaphor to one that really tried to embrace tablet computing.

That’s one of the reasons why Microsoft Surface Pro exists – to help users find a way to have their tablet and [eat] it too. Microsoft’s thought was, “well, users want to compute on a tablet… we can give them a tablet form factor if they want one. We have the whole slate TabletPC thing that kinda tanked about 10 years ago; and THAT kinda looks like an iPad…just a lot bigger and bulkier… If we thin it down and shrink it down a bit and then MAKE a detachable keyboard that goes WITH it (one of the BEST ideas with Surface Pro, by the way…) we can pocket the 3rd party dollars there along with the device sale.”

Whaddya think Stevie B.?

It was a good idea, but unfortunately, the execution didn’t match the vision, and the whole bridging OS thing really went over like a fart in an elevator. In other words, it really stunk up the joint and people ran (not walked) and in some cases, pealed back the proverbial steel plating on the “elevator” to get off. Many of us in the tech sector had the words, “Metro Sucks” tattooed on the inside of our eyelids and spent a lot of time with them closed, shaking our heads wondering why Microsoft ticked off their established enterprise and consumer user bases with a confusing, UGLY and productivity shifting interface that not only made it hard to get anything done, but totally changed the way you HAD to work with a standard, desktop computer.

 But, again… I digress…

Anyway, as I said over the past few days, I’ve seen a few articles on Windows 10 features and while there’s some “nice” things in there, there may only be one or two of the 10-15 or so things that people are touting as awesome that may make ANY kind of a difference to anyone outside of the Microsoft Marketing department.

I’ve been running and testing nearly EVERY beta version of Windows on all of my production Windows machines since Windows 95 (so, for almost 20 years, now…) and I’ve seen stellar UI changes… I’ve seen great feature implementations… and I have to tell ya I’m lookin’ at all of this stuff in the Windows 10 Technical Preview and I’m thinking…

 Meh…

Some of what we’re seeing is definitely a rethinking or reworking of stuff that didn’t quite make the impact that it was intended to make. The Start Screen and the reinstated Start Button and (more importantly) reinstated Start Menu are some good examples. People absolutely HATED the Start Screen and DEMANDED their Start Button back. When they said that, everyone ALSO meant the Start Menu, but Microsoft decided to play stupid on that and only brought back the BUTTON in Windows 8.x.

When the world saw that, they called “bullshit” and gave Microsoft the big, “c’mahn…! You KNOW we meant MENU and not JUST the button..!” schpiel , but for some reason, all we got from Redmond initially was the big, wide spread armed, “WHAT?!? We gave you what you asked for…” response, which caused us to give Microsoft the “crossed armed, head tilted to the right, raised eyebrow silent treatment” that said, “Really..??”

So Microsoft is giving us the Start Menu back, but said, “okokokokokok… but you gotta give us a bit to put it back.” Its actually coming back as part of Windows 10. So, without any further kibitzing… here are the features and some of the hidden features of note <chuckle> in windows 10.

Improved and Expanded Start Menu

So, yeah… as I mentioned, the Start Menu is coming back; but its not the Start Menu that you remember from back in the day. Microsoft can’t seem to let the Live Tile thing go on the desktop, so they gimished the two of them together and we get an improved Start Menu (as you can quickly and easily pin, remove and customize items on it) but you also get the ability to pin Live Tiles to it.

Live Tiles work VERY well on Windows Phone devices. In fact, some will argue that the Windows Phone UI, with all of its Live Tiles, is perhaps one of the BEST mobile interfaces available today. You get updates, information and what you need from it and all you have to do, really, is turn on the phone. (Honestly, this would work on a tablet device as well… IF Microsoft could have let go of the Desktop computing metaphor on their RT based tablets and just gone with the Windows Phone interface approach there, and then maybe they wouldn’t have taken the $1B USD write off on all those unsold RT tablets; BUT again… I digress)

So, yeah, you get the ability to have both Live Tiles and shortcuts on the Start Menu and can now easily customize it; and while this is totally cool, its nothing really to whoop and holler about, ya know?

Oh, you also get the ability to pin the Recycle Bin on not only the Start Menu, but the Task bar as well… However, in order to get it on the Task Bar, you have to first pin it to the Start Menu and then drag and drop it from there to the Task Bar…which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

I’m also a bit fuzzy on why this is so important…or cool… In order to delete items from somewhere on the PC, you have to either drag and drop it to the shortcut on the desktop, or pick it in File Explorer and hit the delete key on the keyboard/ right click and choose delete from the context menu. I’m not certain how putting the Recycle Bin on the Start Menu or Task Bar gets you anything important… Maybe someone can pop a comment in, below, and share the cool factor with the rest of us who are scratching their heads…

Run Store apps and Desktop apps simultaneously

With Windows 10, all apps can run in a window, or can run full screen. This is much like what Stardock Software’s ModernMix does. Its been running MetroUI apps in a window for a few years.

However, now, you can do this and run those applications side by side, natively. Its nice, but quite honestly, it’s a small step for computing kind. Especially since the app from Stardock started allowing this to happen shortly after Windows 8 hit the market, making the transition to Windows 8 a bit easier than without it.

Task View Button

The Task view Button in Windows 10 is really a “view all the virtual desktops you have” button. I understand that its now removable from the Task Bar. I don’t like virtual desktops because I don’t like having to cycle through a lot of open apps. If I do, ALT-TAB has always worked for me and I’m really good with just that quick, keyboard shortcut and familiar tool. See… this is why Bill invented “minimize and maximize/restore” for program windows. You can pretty much clean and clear up your active desktop just by minimizing stuff you need open, but aren’t working with just now.

However, I know I’m not EVERY use case out there, and some people may find this feature of value. If you want to put your music apps on one, photography/picture apps on another, I get it. I get it… However, I wouldn’t call this an “A list” feature…ever.

Multitasking with Enhanced Snap View

Snap is a new feature as of Windows 8 that allows you to place windows side by side in a way that allows you to evenly tile windows on your display. In Windows 10, the number of windows that can be snapped has been doubled to four windows. Windows that are snapped are evenly and equally placed on the screen.

What’s strange to me is that you could always do something like this by tiling windows across your screen. I’ve been doing it since Windows 3.x… However Snap does it without having to execute any kind of strange command, and your Windows don’t start off unevenly proportioned. So, if you have a large enough display and up to four programs that you need to swap data in and out of, it can be a huge time saver, I guess.

Snap Assist

Snap Assist is used as part of Snap View. It helps you snap windows into place and then resize the windows that get placed on your screen. The problem with Snap and Snap Assist is that it doesn’t work well with small screens.

Continuum for Windows (2-in-1 devices)

Interestingly enough, perhaps the biggest and most interesting feature that Windows 10 is going to provide hasn’t hit the streets yet. Windows 10 will work on just about any device that was able to run Windows 8.x, and will especially work well on any and all Surface Pro devices.

With Surface Pro and similar devices, Microsoft is creating a new kind of mode that will allow Windows to function as both a content consumption device as well as a tablet. Its called Continuum; and what it does is allows Windows 10 to change UI’s when a keyboard is attached to a device like Surface Pro 1/2/3. When the keyboard is reattached, the UI switches back to a traditional desktop UI. ModernUI apps will function full screen as they do in Windows 8 when the keyboard is removed and then will function in a Window when the keyboard is reattached.

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