First Impressions – iPhone 8 Plus

Here are my initial impressions of one of Apple’s newest iPhones…

Introduction
Recently, due to an unfortunate turn of events where my oldest son dropped his iPhone 6s Plus, I was forced to purchase an iPhone 8 Plus recently. Sometimes having a pre-teen/ young teenager carrying a flagship level smartphone can be a bit problematic. Having a device is a case helps protect against shattered screens, but even then, they aren’t foolproof. You can still end up with a shattered screen despite your best efforts.

The situation with my oldest son is a great example of how sometimes, the universe just seems to be working against you no matter how hard you try. He dropped his protected iPhone 6s Plus and the screen shattered. I had the choice of replacing it via insurance claim or paying the AT&T Next acquired device off and upgrading to the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. (As a brief aside, upgrading to the iPhone X was out of the question… I’m not paying $999 for a phone. EVER. It’s just not an option, especially when it’s THIS close to the Holidays, and you’re a new grandparent.) The prices in this scenario – insurance claim vs. upgrade – were nearly identical, so… it seemed the better, more prudent thing to do to purchase the upgrade on his account rather than pay the same amount of money for two year old technology.

Through the magic of SIM card swapping, my son ended up with my mint condition iPhone and I ended up with the new iPhone 8 Plus. Here are my initial thoughts on the device. If you recall, I covered this subject shortly after Apple announced both the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus and iPhone X in September 2017.

Honestly, after hearing the details and writing this article, I wasn’t going to bother with the iPhones announced this year. It didn’t seem worth the cost at the time; but since I got forced into it… here I am.

To get started, here, in no particular order, are what I would consider to be the major differences between the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus:

• The iPhone 8 Plus features an all-glass design with an aero-grade aluminum chassis in between. The iPhone 7 Plus features a unibody aluminum body
• The iPhone 8 Plus also supports Qi wireless charging
• The iPhone 8 Plus’ Retina HD display supports True Tone display technology. The display automatically tweaks the white balance to improve readability depending on the ambient lighting
• The iPhone 8 Plus is powered by Apple’s 6-core A11 Bionic chip. The iPhone 7 Plus is powered by Apple’s A10 Fusion chip.
• The iPhone 8 Plus is available in 64GB and 256GB storage variants. The iPhone 7 Plus comes in 32GB and 128GB variants
• The iPhone 8 Plus can record 4K videos at 60fps and Full HD videos at 240fps. The iPhone 7 Plus can record 4K videos at 30fps and Full HD videos at 120fps

My initial impressions and analysis of each of these are below. There’s not a lot here to distinguish the 8/ 8 Plus from the 7/ 7 Plus. The devices are visually identical, except for their body construction. However, you really have to look at the back of each device to be able to tell them apart.

The Full 360
Here are some comparison photos of the iPhone 8 Plus next to an iPhone 7 Plus. My guess is that without me telling you which was which, you wouldn’t be able to tell…

DSC_5532
The fronts of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus, from left to right, respectively. The devices look identical. The only way to tell them apart from the front (without turning the devices on) is by hands on inspection.

The backs of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus, from left to right, respectively. Here, you can see a difference. The iPhone 8 Plus’ back is covered in glass where the iPhone 7 Plus clearly is not.

The left edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which.
DSC_5535
The top edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which. There is a SLIGHT color difference between the matte black of the iPhone 7 (top) and the space gray of the iPhone 8 (bottom); but that’s likely just the lighting in my kitchen…

The right edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which.

The bottom edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which. Here, the color difference between the two is a little easier to see.

Storage Space

The change that is probably the most noticeable, believe it or not, is the storage size difference. There’s no longer a 128GB variation in the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. To be honest, since I had to buy a new device, I decided I didn’t want to spend the extra $150 for the 256GB variant. However, when you’re coming from 128GB, going back to 64GB can be a bit painful. While this is not what I wanted to do, moving to 256GB was not worth the extra cost to me. So, I settled for the 64GB variant and am streaming a lot more content than I was prior to purchasing the iPhone 8 Plus.

Display
The True Tone Retina Display is really very, very good. However, the impact of this white balance method is completely lost on EVERYONE about five minutes after the initial setup of the device.

During setup, you’re given the ability to turn True Tone on or off. You’re also given a button that allows you to see how the screen will look with the feature on and then again with the feature off. While the screen looks MUCH better with True Tone turned on, you forget that its turned on. You don’t have anything that continually reminds you of the feature’s effect when its turned on. This is a set it and forget it feature; and honestly this is exactly what Apple wants to have happen.

Chipset – A11 Bionic
The same can be said for the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus’ A11 Bionic chip. You notice the speed difference for about a couple hours after upgrading. The next day, it’s all business as usual. The performance difference is going to be very noticeable when it comes to VR and AI headsets and apps; but other than that, you aren’t really going to notice the performance bump later on. After the “newness” wears off, this is going to appear as business as usual.

4K Video Frame Rates
You do notice the 4K video frame rate differences, especially on larger displays (like your desktop monitor), as the video filmed on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus will appear much smoother.

Body Construction – Glass vs. Airplane Grade Aluminum
The body differences are TOTALLY noticeable; but really only from the back. You REALLY need a case on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. The iPhone 8/ 8 Plus is very difficult to hold on to due to the glass back and smoother, metal sides. If you don’t have something with a bit of “stick-’em” on it, you’re gonna drop the phone at some point. There’s no doubt in my mind. I’ve nearly done it three to four times in the few days that I’ve had the device. Since the body is covered in glass with an aluminum underbody, as soon as it hits the ground, it’s going to shatter into a million pieces. Save your phone. Put it in a case that’s going to provide decent protection.

Wireless Charging
The go-to feature is the Qi compatible wireless/ cableless charging. I’ve been able to confirm that it works with just about any and every Qi compatible charging system available. This includes any cheap Chinese aftermarket systems as well as Samsung’s wireless charging system for the Galaxy 8 and 8XL smartphone, which is kinda cool. Unfortunately, I am not a fan of Apple’s larger charging mat. I prefer the cradle like system for the Samsung Galaxy 8/8XL.

Conclusion
So where does this leave me..? That’s a great question.

First and foremost, I won’t be purchasing an iPhone X, especially after purchasing the iPhone 8 Plus. I don’t have the funds to do so, and wouldn’t, to be very honest, on my own. At nearly $1000 USD for the entry level model, the phone isn’t reasonably priced or realistically affordable for anyone on any kind of family plan with their carrier of choice.

Now, let’s talk about the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. The iPhone 8 Plus is a decent phone to be certain; but I stand by my original assessment of the device – if you don’t HAVE to upgrade, you may want to wait for Apple’s next iteration of iPhone, due out some time next year. The iPhone 8/ 8 Plus is, in my opinion, just too similar to the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus. But that is Apple’s M.O. – evolution rather than revolution.

The wireless charging is really cool; and will be something that you really prefer doing and using, say at the office or by your bedside, especially if you use your device as an alarm clock to wake yourself in the morning for work or school. However, it’s not a killer, must have, do or die feature. It’s a convenience.

And that can probably sum up the entire iPhone 8/ 8 Plus experience for me – upgrading has been a convenience for me, and not much more.

The cost of the device – as well as the cost of the iPhone X, in my opinion – is bordering on excessive. The 64GB version is now “affordable” at $800 plus tax; and the 256GB version is just below crazy-stupid (at least from my perspective) at $950 plus tax. Here in Chicago that put things at $870 bucks and $1018 bucks respectively after taxes; or about $27 a month and $35 a month, respectively.

I’m shaking my head as I write this. Apple has almost completely priced me and my family out of the iPhone entirely. We used to be able to upgrade devices every two years or so (AT&T’s standard upgrade cycle is 30 months or 2.5 years). Now, it seems as though we’re going to have to make those last a lot longer than just two and a half years. Even with AT&T Next, the monthly costs for a new device are just not sustainable when you have to cover costs for four to five different devices. When you’re looking at a monthly cost of $35 to $40 per device, I’m looking at $150 – $200 per month just for devices… and I haven’t even begun to cover the cost of a voice and data plan for them yet. After all is said and done, I’m looking at nearly $425 a month, which is just crazy. Who does that just for mobile phones..?!

It truly does appear that after phones get paid off, the family is going to have to learn to live them for a while. So, my son is going to have to make this one last more than a year. Its either that, or he’s going to end up with a flip phone (or maybe a Windows Phone… I think both are just about equal when it comes to apps and functionality at this point.)

However, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on all of this. Did you upgrade to the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus? Did you opt for an iPhone X? Are you sticking with what you’ve got for now and upgrading later? Are you just sick of all the evolutionary updates out of Apple and have you decided to jump ship?

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below and give me your take on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus? I’d love to hear from you!

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Scheduled for Termination – AOL Instant Messenger

The iconic instant messaging client will send its last IM on 2017-12-15…

You know, I saw this one and it kind hit home pretty hard. I’ve been a computing professional, working with PC’s since the early 1980’s. Now that I’ve told you that I’m older than dirt, let’s get to the heart of what AIM shutting down really means. It is in fact, a true end of an era.

Farewell AIM

Back I the mid to late 1990’s when the internet got its public start (many may disagree, but it was, in fact the release of Windows 95 that really got things going…), the face of the internet was services like CompServe, MSN, and America on Line (AOL). Most people didn’t get on the “internet” per se back then. They fired up what was nearly 95% likely, a dial up service, that showed them highly curated content, in a 100% designed and controlled interface. These dial up services showed you the content you were looking for – sports, entertainment, computing, etc. – all from within a controlled, curated environment that showed them exactly what the service wanted them to see.

Messenger services were easy to create at that point. Most of the time, you, your family and friends were all using the same service. It made sense, too. Tell me when my friends, who are also using the same service, are online so that I can have an instant message conversation with them. It made communicating with friends and family, all that much easier.

And the war…! Oh my goodness…!! Ok. Show of hands… Who here remembers the IM client war? Interoperability was a huge deal back in the day when all of these things were popular. When one would figure out how the get access to another’s network, so that you could use one and only one IM client, the ACCESSED network would change the way it worked blocking those on clients other than theirs; and then figure out how the other one worked so they could do the same thing. This went on and on, back and forth, for YEARS.

Meanwhile, consolidation apps like Trillian brought them all together; but always had an outage on this IM network or another because they got blocked due to the back and forth crap in the IM war.

But it looks like all of that is now history. MSN Messenger kinda morphed into Lync and Skype for Business. AOL Instant Messenger is done in December 2017, and somehow, “https://www.icq.com”>ICQ still seems to be alive and kicking.

But as I said, AIM is out. According to Oath VP of Communications, Michael Albers,

“AIM tapped into new digital technologies and ignited a cultural shift, but the way in which we communicate with each other has profoundly changed. We are more excited than ever to continue building the next generation of iconic brands and life-changing products for users around the world.”

So, it’s the end of an era. AIM is done. The final IM on its network will be sent and received on 2017-12-15.

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Microsoft releases firmware updates for Surface Book and Pro 4

Its been a long time coming for Surface Book and Pro 4 owners…

When the Microsoft’s Surface Book was originally introduce, most of the pundits in the industry, me included, declared it a total non-starter. It had a boat load of issues, and none of them were getting resolved quickly. I had declared that the Book was a disaster, and that I wouldn’t consider getting one any time soon. Its funny how things can change; but it wasn’t right away; and wasn’t without a number of firmware and system/ driver updates that didn’t come anywhere NEAR the mark.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4Thankfully, Microsoft finally DID figure it out; and they were able to get past some of the bigger problems plaguing the ground breaking ultrabook line. Keeping with a series of updates that, in recent releases have made the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 better than ever, Microsoft released a series of system based, firmware and driver updates for both the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book. This is a key update for the Surface Book, however, as it hasn’t had the regular updates that the Pro 4 has had. It hasn’t had any updates released for it in nearly six months.

Here’s what’s new for the Surface Book:

Windows Update History Name Device Manager Name
Intel Corporation driver update for Intel(R) AVStream Camera 2500 – System – 3.0.0.0 Intel(R) AVStream Camera 2500 – Sound, video and GC
30.15063.10999.4731 Improves camera stability.
Intel Corporation driver update for Microsoft Camera Front – System – 3.0.0.0 Microsoft Camera Front – System device
30.15063.10999.4731 Improves camera stability.
Intel Corporation driver update for Microsoft Camera IR Front – System – 3.0.0.0 Microsoft Camera IR Front – System device
30.15063.10999.4731 Improves camera stability.
Intel Corporation driver update for Intel(R) Control Logic – System – 3.0.0.0 Intel(R) Control Logic – System device
30.15063.10999.4731 Improves camera stability.
Intel Corporation driver update for Intel(R) CSI2 Host Controller – System – 3.0.0.0 Intel(R) CSI2 Host Controller – System device
30.15063.10999.4731 Improves camera stability.
Intel Corporation driver update for Intel(R) Imaging Signal Processor 2500 – System – 3.0.0.0 Intel(R) Imaging Signal Processor 2500 – System device
30.15063.10999.4731 Improves camera stability.
Intel Corporation driver update for Microsoft Camera Rear – System – 3.0.0.0 Microsoft Camera Rear – System device
30.15063.10999.4731 Improves camera stability.
Surface – System – 1.0.85.1 Surface Camera Windows Hello – System device
1.0.85.1 Improves camera stability.

 

Here’s what’s been updated for the Surface Pro 4:

Windows Update History Name Device Manager Name
Surface driver update for Surface Embedded Controller Firmware – System – 3.0.0.0 Surface Embedded Controller Firmware – Firmware
103.1791.258.0 Improves device reliability.
Surface driver update for Surface Integration – System – 3.0.0.0 Surface Integration – System device
1.0.170.0 Improves device reliability.

All of the updates are available via Windows Update on any Surface Book or Surface Pro 4 running Windows 10. However, the Surface Pro 4 update can be downloaded here. The Surface Book update can be downloaded here.

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Google Drive is Out of Support in December 2017

If you don’t have Google Backup and Sync, you better get crackin’…

Google drive

In July of 2017, Google announced that it was introducing a new file synchronization product called Google Backup and Sync. The desktop and smartphone/ tablet app is meant to replace Google Drive, as Backup and Sync does nearly everything that Drive does.

However, Google has stated that its going to stop supporting Google Drive in December of 2017 and will stop working entirely on 2018-03-18. This delay in the overall transition plan between Drive and Backup and Sync is designed to make the transition to the newer service a bit easier on folks who are really invested into Drive. The changes to the service allow users to sync files and folders on your Desktop as well as making all of your photos part of Google Photos as well.

The differences in the service is revealed when you enable its broader file synchronization abilities. Until then, it does the same thing as Google Drive. If you area G Suite user, you can also take advantage of File Streaming. This lets organizations store files solely in the cloud, allowing laptop users to stream them to their local hard drives when working on them, otherwise keeping local storage free and unused.

If you’re interested in getting a jump on the required update to Google Drive, you can transition over to Backup and Sync now. All you have to do is install the software.

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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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Dok Malware is the Disease that Ailes You

Currently, there is NO cure...

Malware – and specifically ransomware – is probably the most compelling reason I know of to completely abandon personal computing. Depending on where you are, what bug(s) you get, and how badly it affects you, I can totally understand the urge some people must feel to leave the computer age behind. Ransomware, or the type of computer virus that encrypts your hard drive without any way of recovering your data unless and until you cough up a payment or two to a hacker, who is then supposed to send you a key that removes the encryption from your hard drive, allowing you to recover your data, can be especially damaging if you don’t have the data backed up or if your backup(s) also gets infected. Infections like these are especially harmful to small businesses that simply don’t have the cash or resources to remove the infection or pay the ransom.

In order to prevent infections like these, regardless of what operating system or computer type you use, its highly recommended that you use a reputable malware scanner. Like I said… anyone can get malware… (Part 1, Part 2). Problems start when the malware scanner you’re using can’t detect the latest, greatest bug to be declared in the wild – case in point: Dok is the latest critter to move into the macOS space, and it targets ALL versions of OS X and macOS; and will take complete control of your Mac if you let it.

Before we go any further, there is a silver lining to this massive, malware cloud of doom – it’s a phishing attack that requires the user to open a ZIP archive that’s attached to an email message. This should be a warning sign to just about everyone – opening ZIP attachments in an email is likely NOT a good idea, regardless of where they’re coming from or who is sending them.

So, what exactly is phishing? According to Wikipedia, phishing is

“the attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and, indirectly, money), often for malicious reasons, by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. [Phishing] is a neologism created as a homophone of fishing due to the similarity of using bait in an attempt to catch a victim.”

Most phishing attempts usually occur via email or instant messaging (so you have to be careful with IM apps as well…) and the “attack” occurs when you open a specific attachment or open an active web page that executes code that directs you to enter personal information on to a page that looks and feels like the real thing. Phishing messages are often sent by imitations of auction sites, credit card and bank sites, online payment processing sites, or from an “IT administrator” from any of those places. The idea is to fool you into thinking that the website or service you’re using/ viewing is legitimate so the hacker can install or execute some other program that will steal financial or other information from you that will provide them with financial gain.

The best and worst thing about phishing attacks is that most users can prevent them by not clicking on suspicious links or opening dubious email attachments sent from people or places you don’t know or recognize or aren’t expecting to receive messages from.

According to Check Point Software, a leading antimalware software publisher, Dok isn’t detectable by any malware scanner from any vendor as of this writing. While this is likely to change quickly, it still represents a huge problem. Dok uses a signed developer certificate. This means that your Mac will allow it to install despite having Gatekeeper active. That signed developer cert is authenticated by Apple, and because of THAT, if you open a ZIP file on your Mac, you could be risking infection.

Once Dok is installed on your Mac, the malware has elevated privileges that will provide access to all communication methods, even those sent over SSL connections, by redirecting all of your traffic through a malicious proxy server. All of your traffic will be monitored, and the person(s) monitoring that data can look through the details, saving what they want. This information could include access to the financial and other PMI based accounts you opened while infected.

The best way to keep yourself infection free at this point is to stay uninfected. In other words, don’t open any ZIP files from anyone. Period. Just delete the email. If you think the sender is a trusted party, email them back and make other arrangements to retrieve the attachments. Services like Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive all have ways to send secure links to files you want to share with others. Look into those.
Additional information on Dok can be found at Check Point’s Advisories archive. If you’re running Check Point Antivirus R75 – R77, you can prevent unauthorized remote access by following these instructions. If you suspect you already have Dok, you need to take a look at this article by Lory Gil over at iMore. All the folks there are awesome; and this article is especially helpful.

As I mentioned earlier, the best way to keep yourself infection free is to not open attachments in email, especially attachments from someone you don’t know; or if you get unexpected attachments from someone you do know.

In the case of the latter, a quick phone call or text message asking if they did send you something can save you a huge headache. Err on the side of caution, kids. It’s better to be safe than sorry…

You should also make certain you’re running a good antimalware app. If you’re running macOS, you can find one here. If you’re running a Windows machine, you can find one here.

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Windows Essentials are Dead – Part 2

Formerly called Windows Live Essentials, this great group of MS created and maintained apps died on 2017-01-10.

Introduction
As I mentioned last time, Microsoft has recently discontinued the download and support of a set of add-on apps that were formally part of its “essentials” brand, as these add-on apps were considered an “essential” part of the Windows Live experience; and while they were supported, life on the Windows side of the fence was pretty good.

Unfortunately, Microsoft killed these applications as of 2017-01-10, meaning that new installations of Windows Live Essentials are no longer possible through its web based installation program. While the installation app is available through Microsoft and via any number of download sites, any attempt to actually run the install app is met with a download error. Here is the official statement from Microsoft:

As of January 10, 2017, Windows Essentials 2012 is no longer supported on Windows 10, and is unavailable for download. Windows Essentials 2012 included Windows Movie Maker, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Live Writer, Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Family Safety and the OneDrive desktop app for Windows.

Last time, I covered almost all of Windows Essentials; and they included the following applications

  • Photo Gallery
  • Movie Maker
  • Mail
  • Windows Messenger
  • Windows Live Writer
  • OneDrive – Formerly both Windows Live Mesh and SkyDrive
  • Family Safety – Windows 7 only

While there are apps included with Windows 10 meant to replace Photo Gallery and Mail, there aren’t replacements for Movie Maker or Family Safety (the latter was meant for Windows 7, only). Windows Messenger was replaced with Skype when Microsoft purchased it; and OneDrive took on a life of its own. It’s now available as part of Windows 10 and includes 5GB of free storage. Additional storage can be purchased as part of Office 365. Users can also purchase up to 50GB of storage for $0.99 (99 cents) USD, per month.

Windows Live Writer
Most users of Windows Live Writer have a few poignant things to say about it. Thankfully, most of them are positive. In contrast, while Microsoft Word can be used to create and edit HTML files, most people that need a “real” HTML editor will tell you – actually they’ll plead with you –choose a different editor. Word inserts a lot of unnecessary – as well as other – tags in the HTML it creates, and HTML edited with it, is considered dirty and “expensive” (meaning that it requires more processing power to crunch through the unnecessary HTML tags than cleaner HTML written in a different editor). Most websites won’t use documents or articles written in Word HTML. A number of years ago, I had more than one publication turn down or reject HTML written with Word. Having a tool like Live Writer to compose and post articles directly to one or more online publications is the closest thing you’re going to have to an offline CMS for the masses.

Windows Live Writer first came out to support Windows Live Spaces. Live Spaces were Microsoft’s answer to GeoCities. GeoCities was Microsoft’s answer to Yahoo’s mass attempt at getting the world to claim their slice of the digital frontier, if you will. GeoCities was a place where just about anyone could create a website and create some kind of presence on the web. It was also an attempt at competing with additional properties like MySpace and Xanga. The big difference with Microsoft’s solution is that they provided a tool in Live writer that had a familiar WYSIWYG interface, like the one found in Word.

Live Writer made it very easy to post to Live Space. Thankfully, the app also worked with other popular blogging platforms, including WordPress, SharePoint, Blogger and TypePad, among others, meaning you can write and automatically post to sites built on these supported platforms. You can also use WLW to create HTML that may be used by other CMS’ (Content Management Systems).

Unfortunately, Windows Live Writer died with the rest of the Windows Essentials on 2017-01-10.

Open Live Writer

Thankfully, prior to its death, Microsoft decided to release the application to the open source community. Windows Live Writer was replaced with Open Live Writer; and strangely enough, the open sourced version of WLW, is completely identical to the Microsoft branded app.

Interestingly enough, the new version of the app supports the same blogging services. The only difference with OLW is that you already have to have the blog started somewhere (meaning, it has to have a URL and the ability to post articles prior to you writing one).

I’ve been using the app for just a little bit now, and quite honestly, I’m pleased and VERY relieved. When I picked up a Surface Book earlier this year, I wanted to install Windows Live Essentials on it. Unfortunately, it was after 2017-01-10, and as I mentioned previously, attempts to install after that date will be met with installation/ download errors (even though you can still download the installation program. Searching for “windows live essentials download” on your search engine of choice should bring up a number of different download links from reputable download sites all OVER the internet. Thankfully (and rightfully so), Soft32 doesn’t have it in its download catalog.

Conclusion
As an HTML editor and web article creation tool, Open Live Writer is just as effective and good at its job as Windows Live Writer was. To be very honest, those that depend on or prefer this tool to others have a great deal to be thankful for. Open Live Writer satisfies the need for a posting tool for just about any and every website out there, plus it creates some of the cleanest HTML, the same as any of the bigger, paid tools on the market.

Windows Essentials had some of the best Microsoft applets ever created. They covered a great deal of holes in the OS. With the advance of Windows to more sophisticated versions, Microsoft has finally retired the suite.

Its components may have been replaced, but can still be used, provided you already have them installed. After 2017-01-10, they can no longer be installed on any computer, regardless of operating system.

Some of their replacements can be installed and/ or used at your convenience; and if you’re curious, or interested, they’re a good move and good choice of applet to address the needs they fulfill.

Are you currently using Windows Essentials? Which version of Windows are using them on? What is it that you find most valuable about them? Are there better apps out there, in your opinion?

If there are, I need you to tell me all about it. Meet me in the Discussion area, below, and give me all the information you have. I’d love to hear it.

Related Posts:

Windows Essentials are Dead

Formerly called Windows Live Essentials, this great group of MS created and maintained apps died on 2017-01-10.

Introduction
Back in the day, Microsoft put out some decent add-on software. This add-on software took on a life of its own and was given an “Essentials” brand as these add-on apps were considered an “essential” part of the Windows Live experience. And while they were supported, life on the Windows side of the fence was pretty, darn-tootin’ good.

Microsoft eventually divided their essentials into two different parts – Live Essentials and Security Essentials. Eventually, both Live Essentials and Security Essentials provided users with important functionality enhancements for applications that were missing in Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. Windows Essentials did not run in Windows 8. So, there was motivation to either stay on Windows 7 or move to Windows 8.1, IF you wanted to keep Windows Essentials running.

Unfortunately, Microsoft killed these applications as of 2017-01-10, meaning that new installations of Windows Live Essentials are no longer possible. Windows Security Essentials never ran on Windows 10 (as it was replaced by Windows Defender). Here is the official statement from Microsoft:

As of January 10, 2017, Windows Essentials 2012 is no longer supported on Windows 10, and is unavailable for download. Windows Essentials 2012 included Windows Movie Maker, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Live Writer, Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Family Safety and the OneDrive desktop app for Windows.

Windows Essentials included the following applications

  • Photo Gallery
  • Movie Maker
  • Mail
  • Windows Messenger
  • Windows Live Writer
  • OneDrive – Formerly both Windows Live Mesh and SkyDrive
  • Family Safety – Windows 7 only

Windows Security Essentials morphed into what is now Windows Defender; but was, at its zenith, one of the best free anti-malware programs available for Windows; and in truth, though part of the Windows Essentials family of apps, it was a completely separate deal. Security Essentials has taken a back seat to Windows Defender in Windows 8.x and Windows 10; but it’s still available for Windows Vista (even though Microsoft discontinued support for it) and Windows 7. Its last update was 2016-11-29.

Microsoft Movie Maker
Unfortunately, Microsoft has no replacement for Windows Movie Maker. If you have installed, good on you. You’re a big step ahead of the rest of the Windows crowd who need an app like Movie Maker, but can no longer get one from Microsoft, and certainly can’t get something of that high quality, for free. (If someone does know of something that is on the same level or better than Microsoft Movie Maker and runs for free without having to ever pay or buy a registration code for it, I’d love to hear from you in the discussion area, below.)

Microsoft OneDrive
Microsoft OneDrive is perhaps the most successful Windows Live Essential app out there. It’s got what I would consider to be the best post Essentials success. Microsoft OneDrive is now part of Office 365 or you can get a OneDrive storage plan on its own, if you wish. Microsoft OneDrive offers 5GB of online storage to anyone who signs up for OneDrive, for free.
When you sign up for Office 365, you get 1TB (terabyte) of space, which should be more than enough space to store just about anything and everything you would want to store, including your photo and home video library.

If you don’t want need Office 365, you can get 50GB of storage for $1.99 USD per month, which should get you started and will store a decent amount of data for you. By comparison, Apple’s iCloud storage prices are a bit better. Apple offers 50GB of iCloud storage for $0.99 (99 cents) USD per month, or half of the cost of OneDrive’s exact same offer.

The bulk of the remaining apps – those I’ve noted above, with some exceptions that I’m going to dive into – made an appearance as what is now being called a UWP (Universal Windows Platform) app. Photo Gallery and Mail are all available as native apps under Windows 10. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a Microsoft replacement for Windows Live Movie Maker.

Windows Messenger was discontinued in favor of Skype, after it was purchased by Microsoft, and while there’s still a way to communicate via IM, it’s not with the client that was originally part of Live Essentials. So… Enter Skype, exit Messenger.

Windows Photo Gallery
I don’t have a lot to say here. Though I am a HUGE photography nut, I was never really into Windows based photo apps or solutions. To be honest, photography is literally 25% of why I got into Macs in the first place. Others may have more to say on Windows Photo Gallery or Windows Photos. If you do, please use the comments area below and give me your thoughts on either of these applets.

Windows Photo Gallery was replaced with Windows Photos, and it’s now a UWP (Universal Windows Platform) app. You’ll have most, if not all, of the same functionality in Photos as you did in Photo Gallery, and as you can see from the screen shot, above, it’s a huge improvement and very user friendly.

Windows Mail

Outlook Express first made an appearance as part of Internet Explorer with the release of IE 3.0. Its last formal, big release was with the release of IE 6.0 and Windows XP in 2001. IE 7 initially included a beta release of Outlook Express 7, but it was eventually replaced with Windows Mail and Windows Live Mail. There were other shareware email clients available at the time when Microsoft released Vista and IE 7.0, but these really weren’t the same; and honestly, most of them required some kind of registration fee to be paid in order to keep using them.

Again, Outlook Express was good. It did basic IMAP and POP3 mail, and when Microsoft discontinued it, it was a huge problem Outlook Express was tied to Internet Explorer, and since Microsoft tied IE to the kernel of the OS, every time IE or Windows changed, so did OE; and when it was discontinued, it wasn’t like you could upgrade the OS and NOT upgrade IE. So unfortunately, when IE killed OE, you couldn’t keep one and upgrade the other… which totally sucked.

So, Windows Live Mail was a response to the absence of Outlook Express. It worked OK, but the Windows Mail in Windows 8 was nothing more than a Metro app (what would eventually become a UWP app) and it used a tablet metaphor for its UI, and honestly, it kinda sucked. Remember, Windows Live Essentials didn’t run under Windows 8, they ran under Windows 7., 8.1, and Windows 10.

There’s only one Live Essentials app left to cover, and that’s Windows Live Writer. Come back next time, as I plan to dive into it, pretty deeply.

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