Five of the Best Windows 10 Creator’s Update Features

These are the best features you’re likely to find as part of Microsoft’s Windows 10 Creator’s Update.

Microsoft released the Creator’s Update on 2017-04-11. Unfortunately, the rollout of this update hasn’t completed yet, as there are still a great many PC’s that have not received it yet, including my Surface Book. However, that doesn’t mean that those that have it won’t absolutely love it. Along with increased stability and performance enhancements, there are a few cool features that bare mentioning. I’ve pulled those and have a quick blurb on each.

• Night Light
Night Light is a new, time based Windows 10 feature that reduces blue light coming out of your display. If you compute in the evening, Night Light is supposed to help you sleep better. The introduction of blue light on the eyes and brain is said to increase brain activity. Night Light reduces blue light emitted from your display (be it built in or external), giving you the chance at a better night’s sleep. This reduction of blue light is also supposed to be easier on your eyes, especially in the lower lighting conditions often found in your home during the evening hours.
• Animated Doodles
Everyone loves taking photos. With the introduction of the smartphone, everyone has a camera with them, literally, all day long. Customizing your photos is often a huge pass time and something that nearly everyone loves to do. Thanks to Windows Photos, you now have a new customization option open to you.

After importing your photos into Windows Photos, open one up. You will see a “Draw” option near the top of the window. Click the option, and you’ll be able to choose a pen type. Draw what you want on top of the photo and then click Save. Click Play, and Windows Photos will replay the drawing actions you just completed on top of your photo. If you’re so inclined, you can share you’re photo and animated doodle with your friends through one of your favorite apps.
• Game Mode
The Windows 10 Creators Update improves gaming performance and provides a better overall gaming experience. If you have a powerful computer with a modern CPU and at least 16GB RAM, then you’re likely not going to see much of an improvement in gaming. However, if you have a laptop or other computer that wasn’t necessarily meant for gaming, you may see at least a 10% performance bump and better FPS (frames per second) rating . You should also see better performance from apps running in the back ground while gaming.
• Paint 3D
With the Creators Update, Paint got a significant update. Paint can now easily create entire 3D scenes. You can also now, ink things on Bing Maps and measure distances and make notes related to landmarks and other points of interest. It also includes a mini-view feature that allows you to keep UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps to open in tiny dedicated windows while you do other tasks.
• Pause Windows Updates
The big thing about Windows 10 and its updates is that, well.. you get ’em whether you want them or not… whether you’re ready for them or not. That’s the way the OS is designed. You get updates when the OS and when MS want you to get them.

The problem with this is that without your direct input, you could lose important data, or find yourself locked out of your PC when you really need it. Thankfully, Microsoft saw that potential problem and has designed a way of stopping the force feeding. With the Creators Update, you get more control over when Windows 10 is updated.

When an update is ready to install, Windows displays a large notification with three options – Restart now, Pick a time [to restart], or Snooze. You can’t dismiss the notification without picking an option. If you choose Snooze, you get a three day pass on the update; and you can hit Snooze as many times as you want. If you snooze an update for 35 days, Windows 10 won’t push the update to you without you first agreeing to the install; but it will change Snooze to Remind Me Tomorrow. This is perhaps one of the most important new features in the Windows 10 Creators Update.

Windows 10 Update Assistant
Have you gotten the Windows 10 Creators Update yet? Have you paused any updates? With Microsoft’s Windows 10 Creators Update still rolling out to PCs across the planet, it’s hard to say if and when everyone will be able to experience these great updates. For example, the only way I can get the Creators Update on my Surface Book is to either force it with the Windows 10 Update Assistant.

The Update Assistant is a downloadable executable that allows you to pull down the update itself so it installs on your computer; or will allow you to download an image that you can burn to a DVD or to a USB stick that will install Windows 10 Creators Update from scratch. If you choose this latter option, you will need a computer with a transferable license (one that can be upgraded to Windows 10); or you’ll need to purchase a product key.

If you opt to use the Windows 10 Update Assistant, you’ll need to be a more experienced Windows user. You’ll need to be able to troubleshoot update issues and problems on your own. For example, I forced the Windows 10 Update, and things ultimately went sideways about three to four weeks post update. I have no idea what happened. I don’t really care. All I know is that I had to reset my Surface Book, wiping all of the data, taking it back to factory fresh. That was about three weeks ago, and I have yet to get any kind of signal that my Surface Book can or will update itself to the Creators Update anytime soon. Windows Update is offering me the Windows 10 Update Assistant again, and to be honest, I’m not eager to jump on that boat again.

The Creators Update in and of itself is really great. I enjoyed using it, over the Anniversary Update. I think it’s must more stable and my Surface Book was noticeably faster with it. However, as I’ve found with Microsoft, it’s the route of the journey and not necessarily the journey itself or even the destination that’s the issue. The road you take will really determine what happens to you after you get there. That’s what happened to me.

If you’re using the Windows 10 Creators Update, I’d love to hear what your favorite features are. You obviously know what ones l like best. Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area and let me know what your favorites are as well as how you got there.

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MacSales Introduces 2.0TB Aura Pro SSD

MacBook Pro upgrades are few and far between; and you NEED to look at this one, long and hard…

I’ve been using Apple computers since 2006 when Apple made the switch from PowerPC chips to Intel. At that point, due in large part to Apple’s Boot Camp, it made perfect sense. Back during this time, it was really easy to upgrade nearly every Mac. Today, Apple’s Boot Camp even supports Windows 10, continuing to make it a perfect multiplatform solution.

In 2012, Apple released the retina MacBook Pro. This display change signaled not only a change in Apple display technology, but a change in its notebook architecture. At this point, according to Apple, the MacBook Pro was no longer user upgradable.

That is… until now.

On 2017-06-26, MacSales and OWC (Other World Computing) announced the availability of a 2.0TB SSD upgrade for the mid-2012 to early 2013 Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display. This particular upgrade is a HUGE deal. OWC and MacSales are one of the very few providers of upgrades for this class of MacBook Pro notebook. The upgrade comes in two flavors – one with an external enclosure and one without.

The Aura Pro 2.0TB SSD upgrade frees up and boosts capacity on the internal hard drive – at over five years of MacBook Pro ownership. The Aura Pro drive is also available as a kit with an Envoy Pro enclosure to immediately reuse an Apple internal hard drive, creating a new external USB 3.1 Gen1 portable drive. This is the perfect upgrade for a middle aged Mac, as it increases storage by at least 1TB (for those MacBook Pros that came with a native 1.0TB internal SSD).

aura

The Aura SSD line is a professional storage line that offers increased performance not only over the native SSD, but other SSD replacements. It also provides

The Aura Pro SSD offers a wide range of industry-leading controller technologies for performance and reliability, including:
• Global wear leveling algorithm automatically distributes data evenly and manages program/erase count, maximizing SSD lifespan.
• StaticDataRefresh technology manages free space, gradually refreshing data across the SSD over time, enhancing data integrity.
• Hardware BCH ECC corrects errors up to 66-bit/1KB for superior data retention and drive health.
• Best-in-class power consumption.
• Advanced security protocols support AES 128/256-bit full-drive encryption.
The cost of the 2.0TB Aura Pro is $899.99 USD for the drive only. If you’re looking for the kit with the Envoy Pro enclosure, it will set you back a cool $939.99 USD.

I had an Aura Pro 480GB SSD for the Late 2012 MacBook Air that I had for a couple of years. The performance of that drive was totally awesome. The performance bump on that i5 based Mac was definitely noticeable and a huge boon. It was more than worth the cost of the drive.

I am currently working with OWC and MacSales to see if I can get one of these drives for review. I will let you know how that effort goes. It will be a nice contrast review against the Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro and OWC/ MacSales USB-C Dock and Thunderbolt 3 Dock that I have waiting in the wings.

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Top 10 Tips to Avoid Malware

In light of the latest bit of ransomware – Petya – here are tips to prevent getting hacked

The latest bit of ransomware – dubbed Petya – is currently running through banks, financial institutions and healthcare facilities in both Asia and Europe. The bug, like most ransomware, encrypts corporate data by encrypting hard drives, preventing access to needed data and computer systems. It also seems to have crossed the pond and entered the US.

Pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck reported that it had become infected with the malware as did multinational law firm DLA Piper, which counts over 20 different offices in the United States. Heritage Valley Health Systems, a health care network that runs two hospitals in Western Pennsylvania, also confirmed in a statement to Recode on Tuesday to be the victim of the same ransomware attack that has spread around the globe.

Petya in and of itself is a bit problematic in that this particular bug has the ability to adapt and mutate quickly, often working around patches that have been released by operating system and anti-malware vendors alike. With Petya, it’s difficult to insure your computing systems stay malware free. Anti-malware and OS vendors are having a great deal of trouble staying ahead of the game.

So, what’s the best way to stay Petya (as well as other phishing and ransomware infections) free? The best advice I can give ANYONE is to follow these top 10 computer security tips.

1. What’s in a Name?
Just because you see an email in your inbox from a name you recognize doesn’t mean they sent it to you. Be wary of all email in your inbox. Inspect the email address. If it looks suspicious or if you don’t recognize the domain (the wording after the “at sign” – for example @microsoft.com), don’t open it. Delete it immediately.
2. Look but don’t Click
Hover your mouse over any embedded links in any of the emails you receive. Don’t click before you do. A tool tip should appear showing the actual email address, or in the case of browser based clients, the address should display in the status bar at the bottom of your browser window. If the address isn’t one you recognize or if it looks strange, again, don’t click it.
3. Check for Spelling or Grammar Mistakes
Legitimate messages don’t have major spelling errors or clumsily structured sentences. If the message reads strangely and strikes you as unprofessional, its likely a fake. Delete it.
4. Analyze the Salutation
Messages from financial institutions will always address you by your name. They’re never going to call you, “Valued Customer.” If you get something like this from one of your financial institutions, I’d delete it and ignore it.
5. Don’t Give out Your Personal Information
Legitimate companies will never ask you to provide identity information or credentials via email. EVER.
6. Beware of Urgent or Threatening Language in the Subject Line of any eMail
Invoking fear via threatening or urgent language is a common phishing tactic. Be wary of any email indicating that your “account has been suspended,” or your account has had an “unauthorized login attempt.” There’s an excellent chance the emails are bogus.
7. Review the Signature Line
Lack of details about the signer or the absence of their contact information at the end of the message strongly suggests a phishing attempt
8. Don’t Click on Attachments
Malware payloads are often embedded in email attachments. Don’t open any you weren’t expecting, even from someone you know. Contact them offline, if possible, and confirm they sent you the attachment.
9. Don’t Trust the Information in an eMail Header
Hackers are smart enough now a days to spoof not only the display name, but the mail header as well. Even if you know how to check this information, you may not be able to validate it as genuine, so don’t bother. Assume this information is fraudulent in any suspect email.
10. Don’t Believe Anything you see
This is NOT your father’s internet any more. The world is hell bent on stealing everything you own and could own in the future (your identity, your credit, etc.), so the best defense is a strong offense – don’t trust anyone or anything you suspect is illegitimate. It may look valid, but it’s better to err on the side of caution that to spend the next 8 to 14 months straightening out your credit because you were the victim of a phishing attack. If you have even the slightest doubt or it even remotely looks suspicious, don’t open the message.

The point of all of this is that THIS particular piece of malware REQUIRES diligence.

Petya is rapidly changing. Its mutating and adapting to patches and detection engines in popular and well known, professional grade malware prevention products. You HAVE to be careful here, or you may end up losing everything on your PC.

Aside from the above, you should also do the following proactive steps on a regular basis. (start NOW if you haven’t done these yet, and insure that you do it malware free):

1. Install and Run an Anti-Malware Package
I have used a number of different packages over the years. Right now, one of my favorites is IOBIT Advanced SystemCare 10 Pro. Regardless of what you use, get one, install it, and use it… often.
2. Get your data on a cloud service
Whether we’re talking productivity files (Word, Excel, etc.) or pictures and home movies, it doesn’t matter. Get your data synchronizing with a cloud service so that you have an easy way to get your data back if it gets taken hostage.
3. Start a Local Backup Regimen
Macs have Time Machine. Windows users have Windows Backup; or you can use AOMEI Backuper and AOMEI Image Deploy. However, any way you cut it, you need to start and execute a local backup plan.
4. Start an Off-Site Backup Regimen
In order to do this, you need an off-site back up service like Carbonite or Backblaze. These low cost, subscription based services allow you to back up your computer over the internet and allow you to do a simple restore as well via the internet or via a hard drive that you can order and have delivered to you.

So, in summary:

1. Trust your Gut. Don’t open goofy looking email. Just delete them
2. Backup your data
3. Install and run an antimalware app

Have you gotten hit by ransomware? Have you paid the ransom, or have you just blown or replaced the drive and started over? I’d love to hear from you if you have gotten bitten. If you have, hit me up in the Discussion area, below, and tell me all about it.

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Microsoft Replaces Placeholders with Files on Demand

OneDrive’s Placeholders have finally gotten a replacement on Windows 10…

I think nearly everyone will agree – Windows 8 was pretty much a train wreck. The OS confused nearly everyone that used it; and that confusion came in the guise of a tablet “interface” that had features missing, existing features deprecated, and a new set of applications that just didn’t fit the design language that everyone was used to when it came to Windows.

However, there was one thing that came out of it that nearly everyone, present company included, really liked, and that was OneDrive Placeholders.

Placeholders in OneDrive were special file stubs that looked like your documents but actually just “took the place” of the actual document. When you actually wanted or needed to edit the actual file, you could double click on it to open it or sync the actual copy down to your hard drive and use it as you normally would. Placeholders were a wonderful way to seeing every file that was stored on OneDrive. This was especially helpful so that you wouldn’t have to choose what files to have on your PC or not. You could bring down what you needed and the rest was done with Placeholders.

Unfortunately, the version of OneDrive that came with Windows 8.x was not compatible with Windows 10. Microsoft further deprecated all subsequent versions of OneDrive so that all platforms (all versions of Windows, macOS, etc.) ran off the same sync engine. Placeholders, we were told would come back at a later date.

My friends… that time has come.

As part of the latest Windows Insider build on the Fast Ring – Build 16215 – Microsoft is releasing a new OneDrive client that has a new feature called Files On-Demand. In an entry on the Windows Blog, Dona Sarkar, a software engineer in the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft noted,

“With Files On-Demand, you can access all your files in the cloud without having to download them and use storage space on your device. All your files—even online-only files—can be seen in File Explorer and work just like every other file on your device. You’ll be able to open online-only files from within any desktop or Windows Store apps using the Windows file picker. And you’re covered in both your home and professional life since it works with your personal and work OneDrive, as well as your SharePoint Online team sites.”

The updated OneDrive client will be rolling out over the next few days but can also be installed from here.

After enabling Files On-Demand in the updated OneDrive client, your files will have an “Online-Only” status and be shown with an icon with a “cloud” overlay, similar to what you see below. Local files will have a green checkmark with a white background. Always available files (those that are marked, “always keep on this device”) will have a white checkmark with a green background. Examples of all three icons can be seen immediately below.

Please note that installing this version of the OneDrive client on any other Windows version – for example, Windows 7 – won’t enable the feature. The feature is dependent upon the latest Fast Ring Build, currently Build 16215. Release notes for that build can be found here.

When installed on a Windows 10 PC with the right Fast Ring Build, the user will see the following when they click on the OneDrive icon in their system tray:

Unfortunately, for me, I don’t sit in the Fast Ring any longer. I’ve had too many issues with prerelease versions of Windows to understand that if I want my Surface Book (or other designated Windows 10 PC) to run without issue or problems, I need to stay away from them. It’s really a one way move. Every time I’ve tried to reset my PC back to a released version of Windows 10, its died.

Files On-Demand is currently scheduled to be part of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, due out sometime in Q3 2017.

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Wondershare Video Converter Ultimate

Download, Convert and burn your videos to DVD’s with this easy to use cross-platform tool.

When you’re a parent or grandparent, believe it or not, video is what you live for. Thirty to forty years ago, it used to be pictures. Grandparents would patiently wait for pictures of their grandchildren to come in the mail; or they’d be hand delivered to them. Either way, what they got were physical stills, and that’s about it.

Today, it’s a completely different story.

Today with smartphones and with the internet, parents (and grandparents alike) can take and share not only stills but video with nearly everyone, at any time. However, not everyone is as technology savvy as the next person. Sometimes, you need a different, more traditional way to share video. That’s why I like Wondershare Video Converter Ultimate. It’s a cross platform (Windows and Mac) tool that allows you to share your story regardless of computer type.

Wondershare Video Converter Ultimate is an all-in-one multimedia suite that enables you to extract audio from videos, convert videos to any popular format with zero quality loss and 30x faster conversion speed. With it you can transform any home DVD movie to nearly any format you want, burn & copy home DVDs, provide one-click online video download, edit videos and more. The package is very compact and easy to use.

Wondershare Video Converter Ultimate supports native codecs like Apple Pores, Intermediate Codec, and DNxHD, so you can convert videos to one optimized format for iMovie, FCP etc., and then edit them for the best overall effect. The process is fast, over 30x faster than previous versions; and allows you to convert both audio and video to and from over 70 different formats. The app also supports native codec support for professional apps like Final Cut Pro.

App Pro’s: Works on both Mac and Windows platforms, provides for conversion, downloading

App Con’s: Not all web browser extensions install correctly

Conclusion: Wondershare Video Converter Ultimate is an easy to use multi-platform application that is fast and easy to use. You can use it not only to download non-copy protected videos from the internet; but you can use it to burn DVD’s with cool menu systems as well.

The app runs off of a subscription service, costing $40USD per year for a single computer license. You can also purchase a single, lifetime license for $60USD. A family license (2-5 computers) for $118USD for Macs and $100USD for Windows PC’s.

I’ve really liked using this app. It’s easy to use and offers a great many features that you would normally only find on a much more expensive, desktop app. The only issue I’ve had with this app is the installation of its Chrome Extension. The process generates an HTTP404 error, clearly indicating that either the application is in error, or the extension location in the store has been moved.

URL: http://wondershare-video-converter-ultimate-mac-version.soft32.com/

 

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Is the Apple HomePod a Non-Starter?

Apple’s got a new Siri powered speaker…

I’ve been chewing on this one for since Apple’s WWDC keynote and I just don’t get it.  Apple’s HomePod is a Siri powered speaker that connects to  your iTunes library and your Apple Music Account.  Specifically, according to Apple:

  • HomePod is a powerful speaker that sounds amazing, adapts to wherever it’s playing, and together with Apple Music, gives you effortless access to one of the world’s largest music catalogs. All controlled through natural voice interaction with Siri.1 It takes the listening experience to a whole new level. And that’s just the beginning.
  • Built to bring out the best in Apple Music, HomePod is a key part of an incredibly deep and intuitive music ecosystem that lives everywhere you do.1 With Siri intelligence and access to virtually all the world’s recordings, it’s like having a musicologist who helps you discover every song you’d ever want to hear.

HomePod does more than play music.  It’s very much like the Amazon Echo. It can help with questions and tasks. It can also connect to HomeKit related devices used to control your connected home’s heating, cooling lighting, locks, etc. It can be the center of your home, just like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa powered Echo and Dot.

The HomePod may be a superior speaker, providing rich, full sound; but it doesn’t have one thing that made the Amazon Echo and Amazon Dot – The Amazon Store.

The Amazon Echo was originally intended to be a way for users to order or reorder items you normally buy from Amazon.  All you have to do is ask Alexa to order you <something> and a few days later, the item(s) show up at your door.  It’s really that easy.  This was the main purpose of the device – to provide Amazon with an easy revenue stream.  The thought was that with a vocal path to your order history and your Amazon account, vocally ordering something from Amazon, without actually viewing your account, the prices, etc. would make you more likely to order or reorder items. It’s not “real” when you don’t necessarily see how much it costs.

This product ordering backbone provided Amazon with a reason for the product. Everything else that it does – play music, read books, control your home’s compatible products, etc. is a byproduct.  However it’s a byproduct that the Apple HomePod doesn’t have.

The Amazon Echo does everything that the Apple HomePod does and is $179.99.  The HomePod is $349.  You can literally get 2 Echo’s for the price of a single HomePod; and you’ll be able to order all the books (and other Amazon provided goodies) until your credit card maxes out.  However, the Echo’s won’t sync their playback as the HomePods will, providing better overall audio quality during playback.  You also can’t order Apple products and accessories with the HomePods.

I’m not entirely certain I get the reason behind the HomePod. The Echo is easy – It’s a verbal gateway to Amazon’s product catalog.  While Siri is more sophisticated and intelligent on the HomePod, she can’t order you any Apple products and have them delivered.

In short, the HomePod is twice as expensive and does (literally) half as much as the Echo does.  While I’m certain that Apple will sell a great deal of them, I don’t see them hanging around in the long term.  This just doesn’t seem like a core Apple product like the iPhone or the iPad.

Am I missing something here; or is the Apple HomePod a total non-starter?  Will it be successful, or is it just a flash in the pan product that Apple released in order to insure that they weren’t missing out on a market that both Amazon and Google were competing in ?

Someone please tell me… I’m really wanting to know, because I don’t think that I get the HomePod and don’t want to – nor can I afford to – buy one.  I don’t have an Echo or Google Home device and wasn’t planning on purchasing either, even though I order products from Amazon all the time.

This is where I need your help.

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area and give me your take on the Echo, the Home and the HomePod.  I don’t do any home automation, so getting one of these would really be nothing more than an audio speaker that could play music and audio books. It could also keep my granddaughter company.  She talks to Siri all the time and has complete conversations with her for hours at a time on her iPad.  At least with the HomePod, and under iOS, Siri is (supposed to be) a lot more intelligent.

Here’s to hoping the HomePod is a lot more than just a very expensive, very sophisticated wireless speaker… but I have my misgivings.

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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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Microsoft Releases the Surface Laptop and Windows 10 S

You can file this under the WTF of the Day category…

You can definitely file this one under the WTF category. Sometimes you really have to wonder what the heck a company like Microsoft is doing. I mean, I am totally out in deep, roving, left, right field with this one, knee deep in Lake Winnapasocki… if that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry. You’re in good company. Like the last part of that statement, the whole decision by Microsoft to release the Surface Laptop and Windows 10 S doesn’t make a lot of sense either.

Let me break this down for you. It’s really a very simple thing, despite what you might think.

Windows 10 S
Windows 10 S is Windows 10. It runs on an Intel Core i processor and does everything that Windows 10 Home can do (because it mostly is Windows 10 Home…). The big difference here is that Windows 10 S only runs apps out of the Windows Store. Period.

According to Microsoft, the S in Windows 10 S doesn’t stand for Store. It stands for “security, simplicity and superior performance.” Terry Myerson, the head of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group said that the “S” stands for Soul, or the Soul of Microsoft’s future – a secure Windows platform that will provide users with malware free apps from them as well as third parties at a variety of price points.

In short, Windows 10 S runs apps from the Windows Store. It will also run Win32 apps that are wrapped using Microsoft’s Desktop Bridge, codenamed “Centennial.”

In short, this is Windows RT for Intel Core i processors.

While Microsoft thinks that restricting Windows 10 S to running only apps that come from the Windows Store, because doing so will provide a more reliable, secure and manageable computing experience, there are a couple of key flaws to this:

  1. There Aren’t Enough Apps in the Windows Store
    This has been an issue for Microsoft since the introduction of the Windows Store in October of 2012. As of November of 2014, there were over 500,000 apps in the Store. By September of 2015, that number had increased to approximately 670,000. As of March 2016, that number should have come close to 850,000. By the time of this Writing (May of 2017) that number should be somewhere around 925,000.In contrast, the Mac App Store should have somewhere around 2,2000,000 (two million, two hundred thousand) or approximately 58% more than the Windows Store. You can find this interesting bit of information here.
  2. There are a Number of Different ways to Obtain Windows Software
    Microsoft is trying to change over 35 years of a proven software publishing business model encouraged and supported by the ASP (the Association of Shareware) and software developers all over the world. THAT is going to be an uphill battle. Most software developers and publishers have resisted the Windows Store because, well… they don’t HAVE to use it. They don’t have to subject themselves to the restrictions that Microsoft places on software that’s sold and delivered through it. They have a number of different alternatives and; it’s clear since the introduction of the Windows Store with the Release of Windows 8 and Windows RT, they’d rather NOT subject themselves to those restrictions.
  3. Windows RT was Discontinued
    Microsoft tried this method of software delivery with Windows RT, a version of Windows that ran on ARM. Windows RT failed miserably and was discontinued. Microsoft was really the ONLY software publisher or vendor of note to provide software through the Store under Windows RT; and at the time, that did NOT include MS Office. What makes Microsoft think the concept of restricting users to running software from the Windows Store on an Intel Core i processor is any better of an idea?

Now let us consider the hardware that was intended to run this “new” operating system – the Surface Laptop.

Surface Laptop
The Surface Laptop is light and thin. It has a long lasting, 14.5 hour battery and uses most of the same accessories as its other Surface family PC’s – including the Surface Pen, Surface Dock, and Surface Dial. It also has a keyboard, covered of cloth or fabric, if you will, like other keyboards from Apple.

The base model comes in four different colors – Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, Graphite Gold and Platinum. Its display is a 13.5 inch PixelSense screen made of Gorilla Glass. It has a touch display that has a 2259×1504 resolution, insuring that long exposure to it won’t strain your eyes. Its touch pad supports multi-touch. The keyboard has 1.5mm of travel, and is supposed to be more responsive and more comfortable than the keyboard on Microsoft’s Surface Book, though I have yet to actually put my hands on the device.

The device’s feature set is rounded out with a mini DisplayPort, a USB 3.0 port, a Surface Connect jack for charging and Surface Dock connection, as well as 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth 4.0. The device does not have a USB-C port or Thunderbolt 3 port.

The base configuration of the device which includes an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD starts at $999. The high end Surface Laptop comes with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD and is priced at $2199. High end Surface Laptops only come in Platinum. If you wish to have a gold, cobalt or burgundy colored SL, then you’re going to be limited to a Core i5 with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

Microsoft is targeting the Surface Laptop at the education market and most specifically, they are marketing the product as a Chromebook competitor.

However, they aren’t going to do that well pricing the device at its current price points. To be very honest, the Surface Laptop is a premium priced product. Chromebooks, most of which are priced between $199 and $399, are minimalist based PCs. They have only just enough processor, RAM and storage needed to push and store a few documents and run the web apps needed to edit them. That’s the point of a Chromebook. They run web apps or those apps that are available in the Chrome Store and that’s all. They don’t run any other kind of app and aren’t meant to.

With Windows 10 S, Microsoft is trying to do the same thing with the Surface Laptop. However, it’s difficult to imagine that Microsoft would price that solution starting at $1000 USD. At that price, education accounts likely won’t touch them, even at a bulk discount.

There’s a great deal here to be concerned about.

The whole model is a bit problematic. Microsoft is targeting the education market where Chromebooks are used by students and teachers, along with G-Suite (formerly Google Docs), to get school work done. G-Suite is free for individuals, and Chromebooks are dirt cheap. The way that the Surface Laptop is priced, it’s really priced more in line with Apple’s MacBook or MacBook Air – a premium product.

The problem here is that Apple’s products are premium products with premium prices in a business model. Most of their apps are found in the Mac App Store; but Apple also gives you a way to side load the apps via the traditional method… the same method that Microsoft is now adopting with Windows 10 S and the Surface Laptop.

Actually there are a number of problems here:

  1. The device starts at $1000 when their direct competition is priced 80% less to start.
  2. Apple’s software delivery model – the Mac App Store – contains roughly 60% more titles than the Windows Store, and it’s much more successful. Its accepted and it works. Microsoft’s isn’t proven and isn’t well populated
  3. Microsoft’s target audience, educators and students likely don’t have the means to get into a Surface Laptop and won’t choose one over even a high end Chrome book, simply based on price.
  4. Part of what makes the Surface Laptop desirable are the four cool colors that the device comes in. Unfortunately, they’re only available in the i5, 8GB, 256GB model. All other models only come in Platinum.

Everything that I’ve seen and read so far about Windows 10 S and the Surface Laptop doesn’t lend a lot to its success. I really don’t think either of them are going to do well. I think the Surface Laptop won’t sell as well as either Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book. While users can upgrade Windows 10 S to Windows Pro for $50, according to Microsoft, I don’t think many users are going to seek Windows 10 S out. The last thing I’m going to want to do is pay an additional $50 to upgrade the “cloud” version of Windows.

I actually think that the whole Windows 10 S and Surface Laptop effort are doomed from the start.

What do you think? Is the Surface Laptop something you’re interested in? Will you pay $1000 or more for it? Do you think that Windows 10 S and the Windows Store are something that is going to work out? Let me know what you think in the Discussion area below.

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