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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Expect Windows 10 to RTM this Week

This is either a good thing, or a not so good thing…

windows 10

As a SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) professional with over 25 years in QA, releases are always a mixed bag of emotions. I’ve heard some SDLC professionals say that software is ever “released,” it escapes. The more that I think about that statement, especially in light with all of my personal, professional experience, I can’t help but agree. As a QA guy… you always want more time with a project before you release it into the wild. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work out that way…

I think this is going to be how things work with the release of Windows 10. The way things have been going over the life of the beta since Windows Insiders started testing in October 2014, it’s been a bit rough. Here are the articles I’ve published on Windows 10 since the Technical Preview started. Please note these are in reverse order, with the most recent listed on top:

There’s a lot there. Thirty (30) articles is a lot for around six months. That’s about one article a week, at least; and when you consider that we’re in the home stretch, there’s likely to be a number of different builds pushed to Windows Insiders, up to, and past the 2015-07-29 scheduled release date.

I say scheduled, because I’m a QA guy, and the QA guy in me says, it ain’t done cooking yet.

What does that mean, REALLY? Well, there are a couple things that have come to light today – 2015-07-06 – as I write this article, and they’re really kinda telling.

First and foremost, Windows 10 is reportedly supposed to RTM (that’s Release to Manufacturing, to the uninitiated…) sometime this week. That means that at some point this week, Microsoft will need to deliver a build of Windows 10 to all its OEM partners so they can start building machines with the final version of Windows 10 installed on them. In the past, that has usually meant that the Windows Development Teams are done with development and can shift gears to post implementation support (meaning, they have bug fixes and Windows Update updates and patches to create, test and deliver. When have you NOT bought a Windows computer, set it up and then waited (what seems like) days for it to download and install a boat load of updates via Windows Update?

Well, according to another recent development, that’s going to happen again. Only this time, it could be a much longer wait.

Microsoft recently announced that Windows 10 Insiders would be the first ones to get Windows 10 once its available on 2015-07-29. There are roughly over 5 million of us as of this writing, and that’s going to clog up the Windows Update servers for a good WEEK or more, at LEAST, before all 5 million plus, get the RTM bits. After that, the OS will be made available to the general public, according to your reserved place in line – read, your reservation [number]. It’s going to be a good long while before the rest of the world gets their first taste of Windows 10.

Let’s take a good look at that last sentence there – It’s going to be a good long while before the rest of the world gets their first taste of Windows 10.

If you read between the lines, this smacks of “delayed deployment.” In other words, it can be interpreted that Windows 10 isn’t ready, and what’s likely to be the case is that a number of updates as well as potential new builds will be released to everyone in that release chain before it hits the general public. OEM’s may install (and I’m totally making this number up…) Build 10200 on their systems as the RTM build, but by the time early adopters get new, native Windows 10 machines in their hands, they may need to download Build 10299 (or greater – internal builds not released to even Insiders may take up a lot of build numbers between RTM and the build end users actually have installed on their machines after initial setup and updating is done) on their machines.

This is both good and bad.

It’s good because Microsoft should be continuing to update Windows 10 to resolve bugs, provide finish and polish to the OS as a whole. It’s bad because a build is anywhere between 2.5GB to 4GB in size depending on your processor type (32bit or 64bit, respectively). Users also don’t want to have to wait to download a whole bunch of updates before they start using a new PC, either. Making them wait is just Microsoft begging for bad press.

And it seems its already getting some on this particular issue, too.

The best and easiest way to insure that you get Windows 10 either on, or as close to Release Day as possible, is to join the Windows Insider program.

According to Microsoft News, 2015-07-09 is Windows 10 RTM Day. They also state that Microsoft is currently testing Build 10176 on their internal, TH1 branch. It’s also supposed to be the first internal release candidate. If that’s the case, Fast Ring Insiders should expect at least one Build to be released to them this week. My guess is that we’ll see at least two (2), with a potential for a third, like last week. However, that’s going to depend on the amount of usable feedback Microsoft got on that rapid fire, three build release. As I said… I’d expect two (2).

What do you think? Will Windows 10 be ready to go at the end of the week? Will the RTM Build be usable, or will it contain issues that will REQUIRE an immediate, end user upgrade to the latest build as soon as your new PC is turned on? How big of a PR or perception issue will that be? Will Microsoft’s new, rapid release effort cause people to blow their bandwidth caps? Will it create a multi-build download requirement, or will all builds be cumulative updates? Is this a good idea, or just a disaster waiting to happen?

I’d love to hear from you. Why don’t you give me your perspective on this issue in the discussion area below, and let’s figure it out.

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Microsoft Releases Windows 10 Build 10162 to Fast Ring Insiders

Wow! It’s been a busy week in Redmond!

Windows 10 Build 10162

I am so behind in my writing projects it’s not even funny. I relayed the status of my big summer projects this week. I was fortunate enough that I was able to knock out my review of the Pebble Time just a short time after that. That… was a big win for me.

It was a big deal because both my Windows machines – my Surface Pro 3 and Dell Latitude ST2 – are in varying states of train wreck status, even though both of them are using Build 10158 or later. Yes… I’m still having all sorts of train wreck classification errors with the Dell. I just don’t know if this thing is going to be a good candidate for Windows 10. Dell is going to have a lot of optimizing to do in order to make certain that they don’t run into support related issues with it.

While things are a bit better on the Surface Pro 3, Windows 10 is still in a pre-release state, and there are some potholes still out there. However…

In that regard, Microsoft has released a third build of  Windows 10 Build 10162  to Fast Ring Insiders today. According to Gabe Aul – Windows 10 and Windows Insider Grand Poohbah extraordinaire – Insiders normally on the Fast Ring can now consider themselves on the faster, Fast Ring. Says Aul,

“We’re at the point in the development of Windows 10 where nearly every build is getting out to our internal rings, and passing the criteria for release to Windows Insiders. We’re focused at this point on bug fixing and final polish, so it’s much easier for each build to get all the way through than earlier in the cycle when we’re adding big new features. So now we find ourselves in a great situation, with an abundance of build candidates. We’re deciding how long to let each build stay with Windows Insiders so you can really exercise them and send feedback on any problems that you’re hitting. I know many of you have said you’d love daily builds, but it is actually important sometimes to get a few days on a build so that all of the code that does deferred work (like OneDrive sync, search indexing, background updating, etc.) can run and we can get feedback and error reports.”

According to Aul, it’s very possible that Windows 10 Build 10162 may get released to Slow Ring Insiders as well, as early as next week. This would also kick off the release of official ISO images of the build (so that I can get it on my Dell. Did I mention getting Windows 10 on that machine was a bit of a train wreck..??)

With the release and RTM of Windows 10 so very close at hand (T minus 27 days and counting…), it’s very possible that we’ll see many more rapid fire releases of Windows 10 between now and then hit the Fast Ring. If you’re on that ring, expect to see more of this in the coming weeks leading up to the release of the new OS on 2015-07-29.

I suspect that testers on the Slow Ring will also see an increase in build releases during the same time frame.

Are you on the Windows 10 Insider Fast Ring track? Have you installed any of the builds released this week? If so, what do you think of them? I’ll have some updates on the state of my installs next week. Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area, below, though, and let me know how things are working for you.

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Pebble Time – Times Up

Here are my first (and likely last) impressions of the Pebble Time.
Pebble Time
Introduction

I’ve been a fan of Japanese anime and the like since I was a kid.  One series, however, Johnny Sakko and His Flying Robot was a favorite of mine when I was a kid, growing up in suburban Pittsburgh, PA for a couple of key reasons –

  1. It came on right after Ultraman
  2. Some of the tech it used – like a radio watch that allowed the story’s lead, Johnny, to control the actions of a towering, giant, defense robot – were pretty cool (especially for the late ’60’s and early ’70’s).

The concept behind the watch wasn’t completely new.  Dick Tracy has been using a radio watch to communicate with his team since the comic series launched in October of 1931.  However, it is a total geek-gasm, and it’s totally cool, especially since, we now possess THAT specific technology today.

In this light, I’ve approached my big writing project this summer – my Wearables Roundup – with a great deal of enthusiasm. I love gadgets, and I most especially love gadgets that I can take nearly everywhere with me.  Here’s what we’ve got so far in the series:

I’m still working through a lot of metal gyrations with the Apple Watch.  There’s good and bad there, and it’s going to take a little bit of time to work through a supportable position on it. (Yes, it’s totally cool, but why is it totally cool; and what (if any) is a compelling reason to buy one…?  I’m working on that…)

You may recall that I was – and in many ways still am – a big fan of the Pebble Steel.  Has that changed?  Does the Pebble Time improve on what Pebble and Pebble Steel introduced to the market? Let’s dig up our smartwatch review topics and find out.

Hardware

In many ways, the Pebble Time should be considered the baseline of all smartwatch hardware. It could be because they were one of the first modern smartwatches to hit the market, filling a gap vacated by the exit of the Microsoft SPOT Watch, first introduced to a short, four year lifespan back in 2004.  They continued to be supported three years beyond their death in 2008, finally losing support for their services on 2011-12-31. It could be because  – that’s all that it really does – the baseline of what many smartwatches really are capable of…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The hardware for the Pebble Time has the following basic specifications:

  • Dimensions: 40.5×37.5×9.5 mm
  • Weight: 42.5g (1.5oz, with strap)
  • Band: 22mm (compatible with all 22mm watch bands)

 

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As you can see from the specs and from the pictures, below, this puts it in the same size category as the 38mm Apple Watch. The front casing has an Stainless Steel bezel, but don’t think that this device has a metal casing. It doesn’t, it has a plastic casing. The bezel is just that – a bezel, and while it may be made of Marine Grade Stainless Steel with PVD coating, it really looks more like anodized aluminum than Stainless.  I don’t think it provides much protection for the device.  It’s purely decoration only. However, it does have a nice matte finish and looks good. The watch body also has a thin, curved ergonomic profile, which is supposed to make it a more comfortable, long term wear than watches that don’t have the same type of bend.

 

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The Time has a tough, 2.5D (Gorilla) glass crystal covering an always on, color e-paper display with LED backlight.  The display is clearly readable in both indoor and outdoor lighting, and even though it’s always on, the device comes with a 7-day rated battery life.  This improves on the Pebble and Pebble Steel which went about 5 or so days, depending on use. Seven solid days is pretty decent.  So, high marks to Pebble on this feature. I’ll have more on this in the Battery Life section, below.

However, it’s not all sunshine and daisies for the display.  The biggest problem with it, is that it’s difficult to read in low light situations.  You’d think that the backlight would help here, but it doesn’t. The backlight tends to wash out the display, so it looks more white than anything else, which is unfortunate.  Someone with not so great eyesight, like me, may have trouble reading it in low light situations, and that’s not good.

 

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The Time also has a built in microphone for voice notes and quick replies, however, I don’t know how practical it is.  Yeah, I know, the whole Dick Tracy/ Johnny Sakko thing of talking to your watch is kinda cool, but I haven’t had any real luck with that feature in any other setting other than a quiet room or office; and honestly, if those kinds of places are the only ones that’s any good in, then having a microphone on the Pebble Time is a waste of internal space.

Finally, the Pebble time has a vibrating motor for discreet alerts and alarms, which allow you to silently notify or wake yourself, and not anyone else.  This is a great way of getting up in the morning without some ugly blaring, beeping noise going off in your ear, or the music on your clock radio sending you AND your cat to the ceiling because your kids are smart alecks and have turned the volume on it “all the way up to 11.”  The Time is also water resistant to 30 meters, insuring that an inerrant swim or shower won’t ruin the watch by having it come in contact with water.

On paper, the Pebble Time really looks like a cool smartwatch.  However, the hardware looks, well… campy, I guess is the best way to put it.  The original Pebble wasn’t very professional looking and while competitors like the Microsoft Band (Part 1,Part 2) and the Fitbit Surge are total dork magnets, their somewhat less than high-dollar look and feel can be completely excused due to their heavy fitness tracking functionality.

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Now, before everyone gets their compression pants in a knot, yes.  I know that the Time can “do” fitness related stuff too.  Yeah, but not really.  As with the Pebble, Pebble Steel and now the Pebble Time, all Pebble smartwatches can “do” fitness tracking. However, they are completely dependent on your smartphone or other device to count steps, track progress, etc.  What the watch can do is display data from your connected phone.

Yes, it has an accelerometer and a compass; but it doesn’t have an A/GPS receiver, so it can’t track your progress natively. If you forget your phone or leave it home when you go out on a run or walk, you’re not going to get any fitness data on your workout.  The watch also doesn’t have any heat or heart rate sensors, so don’t look to it to keep track of any physical attributes when you work out either.  The Time also doesn’t work with Google Fit, the Android answer to Apple Health (oh, and it doesn’t work with Apple Health, either…)

When you look at the device as a whole – plastic body and case, rubber/ silicone band, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed.  Maybe it’s because I’m also wearing the Apple Watch, and because I’ve also got an Olio Model One coming.  I don’t know. Honestly, both the Microsoft Band and the Fitbit Surge aren’t “high end” devices.so I know I’m not turning into a watch snob or anything; but I can’t help but be disappointed.

Wearability and Usability

So what is the Pebble Time like to wear and how usable is it?

Great questions.

Like the Fluoroelastomer band on the Apple Watch, the silicone band on the Pebble Time is just as comfortable and just as soft and silky feeling.  However, in long term wear, I had issues with it creating dry patches on my skin. I was not pleased with that at all.  The band simply doesn’t breathe very well, and it’s not surprising. It is, after all… a silicone band.

IMG_1374 IMG_1375

The curved hardware casing of the watch ads a level of comfort… I think. Honestly, it’s hard to tell, as with a device this small and thin, it’s difficult to know if a curved case vs. a standard shaped case – i.e. like any other watch – makes any real or noticeable difference.  Honestly, I can’t tell; but it is at least nice to know that the feature is there.

Notifications

Like its predecessors, the Pebble Time gets Notifications right.

Notifications are configurable on your phone and alert you when needed.  With the Time’s Timeline feature, you can even review them as part of your Present or Past Timelines.  The only caution I have here is that you take the time to configure your notifications correctly so that you don’t get bombarded by them . The idea behind the Time – and all other smartwatches for that matter – is to make dealing with them easier and less intrusive.  If you’re constantly checking your watch because you have your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc. social networking accounts dinging your watch, then you likely haven’t improved on anything and have overloaded your ability to effectively and discretely address notifications with the Time (or, again, any other smartwatch).

Connectivity

I do NOT like how the Time interfaces with my iPhone.

The Pebble Time connects to my iPhone 6 the same way my Pebble Steel does – with a regular Bluetooth partnership and then with a Bluetooth LE partnership.  This type of relationship has proven to be problematic in the past.  If the Bluetooth LE partnership doesn’t link up after pairing (and because the LE communication uses its own partnership vs sharing the main Bluetooth pairing, it often can), then you aren’t going to get notifications.  This starts to become evident after things are “too quiet” on the notification front after a while.

I haven’t run into this yet on the Time, but it happens quite often with my Pebble Steel, and it’s very frustrating.

Battery Life

The Pebble Time has a Lithium-ion polymer battery that Pebble rates for up to seven (7) days of battery life.  This is both good and bad.  The good is obvious. The bad may seem silly, but you’ll get it once you hear it.

Seven days of battery life (I got about five and a half during this review, due largely, to all of the fiddling and playing I did) is awesome. I love not having to remember to charge my battery every night. It makes for a much more familiar watch wearing experience.   The magnetic charging port on the Time has been moved to the back of the device as opposed to the side on the Pebble and Pebble Steel. The magnetic port on the Time is also supposed to support future smart accessories, that may be built into a watch strap (hence the move to the back of the watch).

IMG_1375

 

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I have no idea what those accessories may be or when they may be available, so at this point, I wouldn’t worry too much about them or how much they may cost.  IF they show, they can be reviewed and commented on like any other smartwatch accessory for the Apple Watch (or other watch that may have available accessories…but right now, I can’t think of any others.  Can you..??)

Software and Interfaces

At the end of the day, while having a nice bit of hardware on your wrist is nice, what’s going to make or break the device is the software that it uses on device and on your smartphone.  Needless to say, yes… I have opinions on both the device software and the Pebble Time App.

At the end of the day, though, this winds up being nothing more than a shuffle of the cards and a coat of paint.  That is to say, yes… I’m calling the interface a total dud.  Let’s check out why…

Device Software

First and foremost, let’s be clear – from a software perspective, the Pebble Time didn’t bring anything new to the table except its color, ePaper display.

That’s all.

IMG_1380 IMG_1381

Yes, I know it has a new software interface. However, the interface on the Time is really nothing more than a reorganization of the information Pebble has had on their watches from day one (except now color enabled), with a new coat of paint.  Pebble Time now organizes your information into three different buckets Past (top, right, device-side button) Present (middle device-side button) and Future (bottom, right, device-side button).  You can review all of your notifications via your Timeline and see what’s most important to you “right now” by simply sticking to the middle and/ or bottom right buttons.  You can review anything you’ve missed by tapping the top right button.

The organization they’ve implemented isn’t a bad idea. In fact, it’s pretty cool; but tying it with the three right side, device buttons is very 2012; and with touch screens available on the Apple Watch and even the Microsoft Band, limiting how you’re reviewing notifications to actions and activities keyed off of buttons on the Time is (now) a bit clunky.  A touch screen implementation with swipes and taps would have been much better; and better received, too.

Finally, and I can’t put it off any longer – ‘cuz this is the right place to mention it – the interface itself is horrible. The screens look as though they were painted by my 7 year old son.  I am so upset about this, to the point where its infuriating.

Again, the word “campy,” comes to mind, and it’s such a shame.  While I know that the Pebble Time is a budget oriented smartwatch, it doesn’t have to look budget oriented.  I know there’s only so much you can do with a color ePaper display, but Pebble could have done so much more with the graphics and SDK to have the time present a more professional, much more mature interface.  With items like the Apple Watch and the Olio Model One out there, a little more sophistication out of the Pebble Time couldn’t hurt, and would have been much welcomed.

The thing that bothers me the most about this, is that UI design choice “A” vs. UI design choice “B” doesn’t necessarily cost more.  You still have to draft it all out, create the screens, review the designs, etc., and having a more sophisticated, more professional look couldn’t have been more costly during its initial development.  The Time is a budget watch, yes, but it doesn’t have to look that way, does it?!  I know I’ve repeated myself here, but I mean… COME ON, people!

The original monochrome UI elements on the Pebble and Pebble Steel looked better than this, I think. Unfortunately, the implementation of color into your UI can bring out its weaknesses as much as it can show its strengths.  The design language needs to be changed here to allow for a more professional look and feel.  It would be nice if Pebble provided that option to its users in a future firmware update.

Pebble Time App

I’ve found this to be yet another huge disappointment.

The new Pebble Time smartphone companion app is really nothing more than the ORIGINAL Pebble app with a new coat of paint to allow for apps with color screens to be offered. While I don’t think you can use the new app to connect to the original Pebble or Pebble Steel – you still need the original app for that – it’s clear that all of the familiar apps from the original monochrome store are offered and available for the Time.

IMG_1593 IMG_1594

New watch should have offered me a new companion app with a new UI and a new design and, as I mentioned above, a better app offering with much more professional graphics. I’ve got screen shots of the smartphone companion app below, and as you can see, and I think agree, this struck me as a “very familiar” (which isn’t necessarily bad) and “nothing special” experience (which isn’t good).

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The new store and new watch do offer the opportunity to get a better set of watch faces, but as you notice by running through the store, many of them are really nothing more than the old monochrome faces, now colored for the new ePaper display.  Again, a huge disappointment.

As with the original Pebble and Pebble Steel, the Pebble Time works with both iOS (running iOS 8 and higher) and Android (running 4.0 ICS and higher) smartphones.  So this is about as cross platform a smartwatch offering as you can get.

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The only downside to all of this is that if you really want to track any fitness info with the Time, you’re going to need a third party fitness tracker like the Misfit or Jawbone (recommended by Pebble) in order to do it.  Additional language and international character support for the Time is said to be coming soon.

Problems and Issues

I think I’ve covered most the of the issues that I’ve bumped into with the Pebble Time in other sections. I won’t go over them again here.

The biggest thing that you do need to be aware of if you’re upgrading to the Time from either the Pebble or Pebble Steel is that the bands are not interchangeable or reusable on the new watch.  Any favorite band styles will need to be repurchased for use with the Time. However, since the time uses a standard 22mm band, they shouldn’t be too difficult to find or replace.

Conclusion

The biggest problem that I have with the Pebble Time is that the device is a huge disappointment to me. It’s not a bad device, per se. There just isn’t anything here that would make me really WANT to upgrade from my Pebble Steel to the time – except its color ePaper display – and that certainly isn’t worth the cost of the new watch. In my opinion, the original Pebble Steel should have been introduced with a color display. It would have made much more sense, and honestly, would have totally negated the introduction or release of the Pebble Time. Perhaps we would have gotten something different or better if it had.

The Pebble Time should be considered the base line for any smartwatch.  It has all of the basic functionality that would be considered mandatory in a smartwatch.  The absence of any kind of native fitness tracking in the actual device, however, is a huge hole, and one that will really make individuals looking for a smartwatch stop and consider or reconsider its purchase.  Other devices exist for about or near the same cost that include the fitness stuff, and as such kinda make the Pebble Time a bit irrelevant even before it had a chance to make any kind of impact on the market.

The Pebble Time is currently available for pre-order (as of this writing) and will cost $199.99.

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Current Status – Where I’m at with the Summer Writing Projects

It’s been kinda quiet in “Christopher’s Corner” over the past few weeks. Here’s what’s been keeping me up late , with my summer writing projects.

Summer Writing Projects

This year has been an ambitious one for me. I’ve started a new job with a financial services firm in suburban Chicago in a senior leadership role. I’ve joined the Windows 10 Insider Team and am actively testing both the desktop and mobile versions of Windows 10.

In February of this year I began a smartwatch/ wearables roundup with the review of the Microsoft Band (that hyperlink is a link to Part 2 of my review. A link to part 1 can be found in the first line of that article). I followed that up in April with a review of the Fitbit Surge. I’ve also hit a couple of pot holes with Windows 10 that is really keeping me hopping. To be quite honest, things haven’t been very easy at all over here in the Windows 10 camp especially; and I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew…

Here’s why – I’m also looking at the Apple Watch, trying to decipher it (I was going to say, “figure out what makes it tick,” but thought the better of it…). I’m trying to look at the Pebble Time, which I have in hand; and I’m also beginning to look at OS X 10.11 El Capitan and iOS 9 (both of which have had Beta 2 versions released).

I’ve got a whole lot of beta in my life right now; and honestly, it’s really messy.

I honestly don’t have iOS 9 installed on any of my iDevices as I don’t want that train wreck to interfere with any of the reviews I’m doing in the Wearables Round-Up. I had El Capitan installed on my MacBook Pro, but nuked and rebuilt my Mac as I bumped into a adware/spyware element from some software that I didn’t get from Soft32 – a huge mistake, by the way… all of our software is certified malware free – and had to rebuild the machine in order to get rid of it. I’m still in the tail end of that, as the malware had also infected my Time Machine backups and I can’t use it to restore ANYTHING. After I figure out which apps I have to redownload, reinstall and then reregister (some, like A Better Finder Rename and ClamXav were downloaded, installed and registered outside of either the Mac App Store or any other self-downloading or updating system), then I have to blow my Time Machine drive and let it automatically reestablish its backup schedule.

There are also some really big issues with Windows 10 right now, that go beyond whether or not you’re going to get the software for free. Build 10130 is a bit of a turd; and to be quite honest, my Surface Pro 3 is very unstable. I’m also having issues wiping it and moving back to Windows 8.1 (not that I want to stay there, but if you really want to clean install a beta build, the best thing to do is to go back to the last RTM point for it and build forward). I’m not certain if that’s the recovery media I have, or if there’s a firmware or other system software issue, or what, that’s preventing THAT from working.

A new firmware update has come out for the Surface Pro 3, and MY device still wants to download and install the MAY firmware update (showing as Firmware (or Hardware) Update 05/14/2015, in Windows Update) over and over and over and over and over… you get the picture… even if it’s been successfully installed. …Very frustrating.

I also happen to be a bit impatient. This can be a bad thing during a beta software run or any other testing situation, as impatience can often lead to additional errors or support problems. However, seeing as my Surface Pro 3 likes to download the same firmware update over and over again AND seeing as how the latest firmware update was released three days ago (and my SP3 is still trying to download the MAY update), I decided to see if the firmware update couldn’t be downloaded manually.

Most hardware OEM’s have support pages for their devices. Dell is famous for all of this; and I figured Microsoft had to have something similar. I was right, too.

You can find all of the latest Surface and Surface Pro support software, here.

Simply navigate to that page and then click the download button. You’ll be taken to a page where you can select exactly what files you want or need to download for your supported device.

WARNING – Only download and install software meant for your SPECIFIC Surface model.

I know this seems like a silly thing to say; but ALL of the files for all six (6) Surface Models – Surface, Surface 2, Surface 3, Surface Pro, Surface Pro 2 and Surface Pro 3 – are mixed together. They’re all named appropriately, but the model names and file names are all similar and it’s very easy to miss a model number or a “pro” and download the wrong support file. Attempting to install a file not meant for your device can cause serious, perhaps irreparable, damage to it. You need to be very careful.

I was able to find and download the firmware file I was looking for for my Surface Pro 3, and get it installed. Problem solved.

Anyway… let’s take a moment and run down a check list of where I am with everything so that everyone knows what’s what –

Wearables Roundup

Microsoft Band Review – Completed (Part 1, Part 2)
Fitbit Surge Review – Completed
Apple Watch Review – In process (Latest article – Personal Setup of the Apple Watch
Pebble Time Review – In process
Olio Model One Review – Waiting on hardware
Final Conclusions & Round Up – Pending completion of all individual reviews

Windows 10 Coverage

Latest Fast Ring Build – Build 10130
Latest Slow Ring Build – Build 10130
Latest Article – Windows 10 Build 10122 Status Update
Latest Mobile Fast Ring Build – Build 10149 (Write up is pending)

Apple Coverage

OS X 10.11 – Waiting on Stability & Public Beta Release
Current Build – Developer Preview 2 (Build 15A204b)
With the Apple Watch Review in play, I don’t want to negatively affect any connectivity between my Mac, my iPhone and my Watch.
iOS 9
Current Build – Beta 2 (Build 13A4280e)
With the Apple Watch Review in play, I don’t want to negatively affect any connectivity between my Mac, my iPhone and my Watch.

watchOS
Current Build – Beta 2 (Build 13S5255c)
Likely will not install during the Wearables Roundup period. I don’t want to screw up the Watch while its being reviewed, as not everyone will have access to the beta bits until its formal release in the Fall of 2015 (or unless and until Apple releases a public beta).

So this, kids, is why you haven’t seen a lot from me this past month. I’m working… Oh, you can bet your babushkas I’m working… I just either don’t have much to report, or I’m busy trying to troubleshoot and dig myself out of a hole due to software (and/or hardware interaction) bugs. However, I do plan on providing coverage this summer for all of the items you see here.

Do you have a Windows Machine? Are you a Microsoft Windows 10 Insider? Are you on the Fast Ring or the Slow Ring? Which Build do you currently have installed on your Windows PC? How well (or not) is it working for you? Do YOU think they will be ready to ready to release to the public on 2015-07-29?

Do you have a Mac? Are you a Mac Developer Program member? Have you downloaded and installed OS X 10.11 El Capitan? Have you downloaded and installed the latest version of iOS 9 to your iDevice? How well (or not) is they working for you? If you’re not a Developer Program member, will you install any of the public betas on your Mac or iDevice(s)?

I’d love to hear from you to find out where you are and what your experience has been with all of this. What issues have you bumped into? What issues have you heard about, but not experienced? Why don’t you join me in the discussion area below and give me your current status and tell me how things are (or are not) working for you?

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Windows Mobile 10 Build 10136 Released to Fast Ring Insiders

If you’ve got a supported device and are testing, you’re in for a surprise…

Windows Mobile 10 Build 10136

Ring master Gabe Aul from Microsoft has released Windows Mobile 10 Build 10136 to Fast Ring Windows Insiders as of noon-thirty CDT on 2015-0-16. If you’re a Windows Insider and you’re registered for Fast Ring Builds, AND you’ve got a supported mobile device, you can expect a little bit of additional love from Microsoft today.  This build replaces Build 10080, released to Fast Ring Insiders on 2015-05-15; or about a month ago.

The first thing you need to know is that no new phones are supported in this Build. I have that directly from Gabe Aul:

unnamed

I’m finding this a bit problematic.

There aren’t a lot of Windows Phones on the market.  There really aren’t.  I have a BLU WinHD LTE, and it has Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 on it, but the device isn’t supported for testing Windows 10 Mobile yet.  This may be partially because the WPRT (Windows Phone Recovery Tool) doesn’t have a Windows phone 8.x recovery image for it (yet??); or it may be because Microsoft just isn’t opening the device testing pool open to any non-Lumia device besides the HTC One M8 (but again… How many different types of Windows Phones are available, REALLY?!?)

Secondly, if you want to install this build, you’re going to need to do so from Windows Phone 8.1.  You can’t do it from Windows Mobile Build 10080.  The upgrade won’t be offered to you.  To get the build, you’re going to have to use the WPRT (Windows Phone Recovery Tool) to restore your phone back to Windows Phone 8.1 and then go through any and all WP8.1 upgrades (recommended, but not required).  After that, you’ll need to download and install the Windows Insider app, register for the Fast Ring, reboot your phone and then check for updates.

Once the update installs, it’s been reported that the upgrade lock screen will appear frozen, without the date and time on it, for up to 10 minutes.  Stop!  Leave it alone. It’s actually processing stuff in the background.  The Windows Insider Team has instructed users experiencing this to be patient and let the device sit and finish. It will eventually show the date and time and allow you to unlock the device and use it. If you get impatient and restart the device or try locking/unlocking your phone, you’ll wind up in a “funky state.”  Leaving the device alone so it can finish the upgrade process is the recommended and proper action.

In a nutshell, here are the changes:

New

Tons of fit and finish changes: There are far too many subtle changes in the UX to cover; but spit and polish are starting to be applied.

Improvements to Cortana: Cortana is now very close to the final design. She’s gotten smarter and she’s had some previously disabled abilities turned back on.

Photos and Camera Improvements: General improvements are available to everyone. If you’ve got a Lumia device,Lumia Camera Beta can also be your default camera app.

One-Handed Use:   The experience on larger devices – those with a screen of 5 inches or greater – is now much better.  Press and hold the Start button and your screen will slide down so you can reach items at the top of your screen.  The screen slides back up when you tap the Back button.

Resolved Bugs

  • We have fixed the MMS bug in Build 10080, and you should receive MMS messages normally.
  • We have fixed the issue where touch will stop responding on the Lock screen preventing you from swiping up to unlock your phone.
  • We have fixed some visual glitches in Action Center when expanding/collapsing.
  • We have fixed the issue where the text in the People app was too small.
  • When you toggle the Wi-Fi quick action in Action Center, it now disables/enables Wi-Fi instead of taking you to the Wi-Fi Settings page. This was one of the top 5 pieces of feedback we heard from Windows Insiders.
  • Your Start screen background should be scaled correctly now.
  • You can add a detailed status to display on your Lock screen from apps like Outlook Calendar without having the Settings app crash.
  • We also fixed the issue where a mouse cursor would appear when pressing the back button on your phone.

Known Issues

  • After upgrading, you will still see duplicate tiles for apps like Search and Phone under All Apps.
  • If you have too many PIN unlock attempts, you’ll see the “enter A1B2C3” reset experience. However, there is an issue in this build where after you enter the code you won’t see the PIN pad. The workaround is to press Emergency Call after entering the code, then press Back and you’ll be able to enter your PIN.
  • We recommend disabling the double-tap-to-wake feature on some Lumia devices by going to the Settings app then Extras > Touch > Wake to prevent any accidental PIN unlock attempts.
  • There is an issue that may cause Skype not to work after upgrade. The best workaround is to uninstall Skype on Windows Phone 8.1 *before* you upgrade to this build and then reinstall it after upgrading. If you miss that step though, you can usually resolve by uninstalling it and reinstalling from the Store once you’re on 10136.
  • If you’re having issues installing new Language Packs in this build, see this forum post.

You can check out the specifics on the Windows 10 Blog, here.

 

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Backup, sync and protect your data with SpiderOak

Backup, sync and protect your data with this cross platform, cloud-based tool.

SpiderOak

Cloud storage is something that everyone should have. Everyone. Period. Everywhere. You should also have more than one backup or instance of your data on more than one service. You should be using, for example, OneDrive AND Google Drive AND Dropbox AND SpiderOak. Yes… SpiderOak. It’s a very cool, very secure, multi-platform, cloud-based sync service, and it’s pretty cool.

Back in 2011, one of the first articles I wrote for InformationWeek was a roundup of cloud-based backup services, and SpiderOak made the cut then. It’s a GREAT service that doesn’t get half as much lime light as it really deserves. Its biggest draw – privacy. SpiderOak can’t look at your data. They don’t have your encryption keys.

SpiderOak encrypts all of your data on its servers. This means that only YOU can get at your data. No plaintext data, no keys, or file meta data is ever stored on their servers. All this ensures absolute confidentiality of your data. SpiderOak couldn’t decrypt it, even if ordered to by a court of law.

The service is fast. I’ve been using it for quite some time now, and SpiderOak always has my data up and synchronized well before any of the other services I use. I’m not certain if it’s the compression they’re using or some other feature; but it’s always, quick, accurate and reliable.

SpiderOak is the leading private backup solution and has 100% Zero Knowledge of your data. You can get 2GB of space for free, or 1TB of space for only $12 a month. Plans start at $7 a month for 30GB; and go up to 5TB. You can pay monthly or annually; and you can upgrade, downgrade or cancel your plan at any time.

The only issue that I see with SpiderOak is the same issue that I see with OneDrive – they don’t offer enough space on their free plan; and then their 1TB plan is $2USD more expensive than Google Drive. However, that shouldn’t deter you for using this 100% private service. SpiderOak is an awesome service and one that I can’t recommend highly enough. Stop what you’re doing and download it now, especially if privacy and cloud storage is a concern to you. This is a must have.

Download

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iCloud and iCloud Drive Could Be Awesome!

If Apple gave the storage space away…

icloud-apple-logoI’ve recently been mucking around with my Mac and iCloud Drive and have come to a very logical conclusion – iCloud and iCloud Drive could be the service that corners the consumer cloud service market…but only if it gives the storage space away.

I’ve been using cloud storage services for a number of years. A few years ago, I wrote an article that was posted on Information Week; but has since been outdated and the post removed. I recreated it on my blog, iTechGear; and you can see all of the original post, here. Cloud-based storage was big in 2011. Its big now.

Dropbox still only offers you 2GB of free storage (don’t get me started on how far behind the times, that amount is…). However, if you want to upgrade to a full terabyte of storage, you can do that for $10 bucks a month. Google Drive offers a similar plan. Microsoft OneDrive offers unlimited storage to anyone with an Office 365 subscription.

That’s all well and good, but it isn’t as elegant and as integrated a solution as Apple’s iCloud. Their solution is integrated into the OS . Its integrated into all of their computers and devices; and… it totally blows, because it’s totally too expensive.

Here’s what’s killing me about it all…

Default Storage Size

data-storage
Only 5GB..? REALLY?! What, is this 2010, still?

Look, if you’re going to charge people for storage, then you have to do better than just 5GB as a starting point. The entire world seems to be moving people to a cloud based storage model. There are a number of different cloud storage options still around today, and when you only offer 5GB to start me off, then you are really looking for me to find someplace else to keep my stuff. When I have a 64GB iPhone, thinking that 5GB of free storage is going to be enough for me to back up a device, isn’t silly… its verging on stupid. There is NO WAY that 5GB is going to be enough, and Apple wants to charge a bit for its larger storage options.

While the next tier up is 20GB for only $0.99 per month (not bad for a paid tier; but still not enough when you have a 64GB, with you all the time, digital camera and internet communications device). Apple’s next paid step is 200GB for $10 per month. That same $10 per month can buy you 1TB of storage from Google Drive and UNLIMITED storage from Microsoft (and includes a “free” Office 365 subscription).

Fellow iBlogger Jonny Evans asks a GREAT question (and I’m paraphrasing, here…) – why doesn’t Apple give you at least 5GB of storage with every iDevice you buy and register with Apple and your iCloud account? It’s a GREAT question; but hold that thought for a moment…

Photos – You’re going to Break the iCloud Drive Bank
iphotoiconApple currently has OS X 10.10.3 in beta right now. That beta release has a beta version of Apple’s new iPhoto and Aperture replacement – Photos. The app uses iCloud and iCloud Drive to store photos by default. When you do that… and if you’ve got a large photo library, you’re going to max out your storage allotment before you can blink.

I think Apple is going to have a HUGE problem with the implementation and release of Photos to the general public. While most of what they sell are considered premium products, the entire world is working overtime to support the purchase of an iPhone and MacBook/iPad combination. Photos is a prime editing candidate for these folks, but without enough online storage, the whole effort is going to be a bust with each endpoint implementation.

That’s fancy IT talk for, “your average user won’t be able to make proper use of the app because they won’t have enough online storage.”

Money to Burn
Now, let’s get back to that Jonny Evans question… And, let’s face it – Apple has money to burn. They have over $173B USD in liquid cash as of this writing, and could perhaps buy most of Greece with that amount of cash (though, not all of it…they’d need at least $200B USD more…). With money on THAT scale, I am left wondering why they are charging their customers – owners of MacBooks, iPads, iPhones, iPods, etc. – any kind of fee AT ALL for iCloud or iCloud Drive storage.

I know that all iTunes purchases are automatically stored in iCloud; and that that storage is unlimited. You can pull content down or stream content to your iDevice any time you want; but if I had a dollar for every time my wife’s iPhone told me that it couldn’t back up the contents of the device automatically to iCloud because her account didn’t have enough storage, I’d be rich myself.

But, isn’t this the right thing to do? Giving away iCloud storage, I mean….

I mean, I know Apple’s products are enticing. As I said, nearly the entire world is trying to figure out how to score enough cash to purchase the iDevice of their choice; but wouldn’t free, unlimited cloud-based storage be exactly what the organization needs to provide to make them the slam-dunk, no brainer choice for everyone and for everything you do with a computer?

I know I’d be much more inclined to choose an Apple based solution if I was in the market for a computer, tablet or smartphone, if I knew that the purchase also got me access to unlimited, free cloud-based storage. Wouldn’t you..??

That’s the computing age I want to play in. That’s the kind of, “we’ve got money to burn, so let’s do something that benefits not only our shareholders, but all of our users as well,” action that gets you written down in the history books…and it would make iCloud and iCloud Drive a slam dunk, absolute no-brainer for absolutely everything you did online…and the simple thought of Apple doing this should make companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft quake in their boots.

What do you think?

Am I on the right track here? Is this a good idea or a bad idea? Would it create any anti-trust issues for Apple? If you weren’t an Apple user, would you want to switch to an Apple product to get access to unlimited cloud storage? Why don’t you chime in, in the discussion area below and let me know what you think? If you have a different or better idea, I’d love to hear about it!

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