Microzon Introduces Digital Assistant Corlexa

Or is that Amasoft introduces digital assistant Altana..? I’m confused, man…

In a very surprising move, Microsoft and Amazon have agreed to a partnership where their digital assistants, Cortana and Alexa respective, will begin sharing information by the end of this calendar year, 2018. This will enable each digital assistant to leverage the unique abilities of the other in an unprecedented collaboration and data sharing initiative between the two Seattle, Washing based computing giants.

The partnership was announced on 2017-08-30. The effort began last year and began by a joint statement by both Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to the New York Times. Both CEO’s have indicated that they would also be willing to welcome both Siri and Google’s Digital Assistant to join the effort, but doubt was expressed on whether Apple and Google would be interested in joining the partnership.

Both Bezos and Nadella are touting the partnership as a precisely matched pairing that will complement the different data sets and service specialties that each assistant provides. According to Jeff Bezos, “[both Siri and Alexa have] strengths [that] will complement each other and provide customers with a richer, and even more helpful experience.”

Satya Nadella agreed, saying, “Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us. Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments, and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”

The beginning of the program will require users of one to specifically “open” the other – “Alexa open Cortana and…” or “Cortana open Alexa and…”. You can use either to set a reminder or read email, or use Alexa via Cortana to control smart home devices or other activity.

It’s clear that both Microsoft and Amazon are looking for a deeper, more seamless integration, long term. The idea is that both know what the other can do, and knows the magic words to relay back and forth behind the curtain to make it all happen. All the user will need to do is ask…

The big thing you’re going to have to watch here is your privacy and the amount of metadata that will likely have to fly across the internet in order to give any contextual meaning to your overall experience. Both Alex and Cortana are going to share what they know about you – your contacts and their information (so you can call or text so and so a message…), your calendar, your action items, etc. Both Alexa and Cortana will also have to share your web surfing, video streaming, music playing, etc., habits and be able to know your audio and video likes and dislikes so that it can work its magic without making a mistake.

If you have home automation equipment (light bulbs, thermostats, sprinkler systems, door bells, etc.) hanging off your home network, your comings and goings, utility usage and consumptions, etc. will also be shared and trafficked across the internet.

I am certain that digital assistants that can share this pooled information will be amazing; but you have to wonder… how much is convenience worth? Is my privacy worth giving up for these features?

Only YOU can answer those questions…

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Top Creator’s Update Issues and How to Fix Them

Here are the top problems with Microsoft’s Creator’s Update and the way to resolve them all…

The Creators Update is the latest update to Microsoft’s Windows 10. It’s the start of what Redmond says will be a biannual update to their desktop operating system. The Creators Update was released in April of 2017. The next update, the Fall Creators Update is scheduled to be released in September of 2017.

The new strategy behind Windows 10 is to release two major feature updates per year. Over the past few months, I’ve been doing a bit of research on the Creators Update; and it introduced a number of new features. With the implementation of new features and functionality, there are likely to be problems and issues. Some are easy to resolve. Others, take a bit more doing to resolve.

So, without any additional hullaballoo, here are the top Windows 10 issues and the best and easiest ways to resolve them.

The Update Doesn’t Download
If you’ve got the Anniversary Update – Version 1607 – then you’re a prime candidate for the Creators Update – Version 1703. However, it doesn’t always get to you when you want it or when you’re ready for it. Sometimes, it just seems like it doesn’t want to come down to your PC. If that’s true, there are a couple different things you can do, however, depending on your PC, you may be intentionally blocked due to a technical problem with your PC that hasn’t been patched yet.

If you can’t get the update, that may be the best thing. However, if you have to have it, you can do the following things:
Download the Windows 10 Update Assistant. It will pull down the Creators Update and upgraded your computer the ISO. There’s an ISO image. You’ll need to be a registered Windows Insider first, but you can still get it.

Windows Update gets Stuck
Similar things have happened to me with other updates. You wait for the update to come down and update your system; but while doing so, the update either stops coming, or it won’t actually update your system no matter how many times you’ve hit “Restart and update.” Unfortunately, Windows Update isn’t the best at what it does. When this happens, you’ll need to open the Command Prompt, with elevated privileges so you can execute some administrator level commands.

To get the Creators Update moving again, follow these steps:
At the command prompt, type,

net stop wuauserv

and hit enter. This will temporarily stop the Windows Update service.
Open up a Windows Explorer Window and navigate to C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution. Delete any and all files you find in that folder. Do NOT delete the actual folder itself.
Go back to your Command Prompt. Type,

net start wuauserv

and hit enter. This will restart the Windows Update service on your PC.
Go back to Settings – Windows Update and have it look for updates again. It should find the Creators Update and start downloading it again.

Windows Defender Can’t Update
Nearly everything comes down as a result of Windows Update. This includes updates to Windows Defender and its malware definitions. Unfortunately, sometimes Windows Defender’s updates gets stuck, too. When that happens, you can do one of the following things to get things going again.

Try again.

Sometimes getting Defender updated just requires you to run Windows Update again. Pull the trigger again, and see if the updates come down all the way. If they do, you’re in business. If they don’t, move on to the next step.

1. Reset Windows Update
You can use the steps I noted above to kill Windows Update’s cache. If simply running Windows Update again doesn’t download new malware definitions for today, and you know you haven’t gotten them already, use the steps I noted above to stop Windows Update’s service, delete its cache files, and then restate the service
2. Malware Updates Windows Defender
Alternatively, you can manually download Windows Defender malware definitions from Microsoft here. Once you do, just run the .exe file, follow the prompts, and your Windows Defender is up to date.

Windows won’t Add New Users
Adding new user accounts to a single PC can be a big deal. Sometimes, you just have to share workstations. In some instances, Windows won’t let you add new users to an existing Windows 10 install when they don’t have Microsoft Accounts.

It’s unclear whether this is actually a bug or whether this is all part of Microsoft’s evil plan to take over the world. Any way you slice it, this is an issue, but don’t worry there’s an EASY resolution.

Turn off your internet connection.

If you’re using Wi-Fi, turn the adapter off. If you’re using an Ethernet connection, pull the cable. Either way, the lack of a connection to the internet is what you’re looking for. When Windows 10 can’t communication with the outside world, it will let you add a standard, local account without demanding that it be a Microsoft Account.

Please note that you won’t need to do this every time you want to add a local account. The only time you’ll need to kill your internet connection is if and when Windows 10 Creators Update won’t add the local account while you’re connected to the internet. Again, simply killing the internet connection will turn off Windows 10’s apparent need to be all Microsoft Account connected.

Windows Won’t Shut Down All the Way
Sometimes Microsoft goes out of its way not really NOT help itself. Such is the case with the Creators Update and some of its performance features. In some cases, the OS can’t get out of its own way. On rare occasions, installing the Creators Update may accidentally enable Windows Fast Startup option. Fast Startup puts your PC into a low-level hibernation state instead of actually shutting the PC down.

Fast Startup allows your computer to hibernate instead of actually, fully shutting it down. This can make turning the PC back on a lot faster, as the PC doesn’t have to go through its full startup procedures which may include a full POST.

This “benefit” may create startup problems as well as making it difficult to access your BIOS if you need to make adjustments or changes to boot sequences or other startup options. Thankfully, there’s an easy fix to this – you just need to disable hibernation through elevated permissions via the Command prompt.

To do this, follow these steps:

1. Open the Command Prompt in Administrator Mode
2. Type the following at the prompt –

powercfg /h off

3. This will disable hibernation system wide and should turn off fast startup.

A couple of normal restarts later, and you may be able to reverse this by typing

powercfg /h on

later. If you really need hibernation back, and have found that your PC now shuts down like it’s supposed to, turning this back on should be ok. If you find yourself in the same boat, turn hibernation back off by repeating the above commands.

Location Services won’t Turn Off
Location services are a big part of Windows 10; and they can, if not monitored correctly, use up a great deal of battery power. With early installations of the Creators Update, some users are reporting that the Update is causing Location Services to turn on and remain on, despite the fact that users have turned them “off.” Unfortunately, this is a bug in the OS, and its one that Microsoft is going to have to fix. Don’t worry… they’re get to it, eventually.

In the meantime, if you want to try to work around it, you can do the following.

1. Open Settings.
2. Click Privacy and navigate down to Location
3. Turn the feature off entirely.

This will turn off all location based updates Windows makes, but should resolve the issue and the potential battery drain. You’ll need to pay attention to the updates that Windows Update installs. If any of them update Windows Location Services, try turning Location Services back on to see if the issue is resolved

Gaming Mode Disables Night Light
It’s never fun when one feature implementation interferes with the functioning of another. Unfortunately, as I’ve learned over the years, this is just the way software works sometimes. In cases like these, you have to watch out and be careful.

Unfortunately, there are some instances where Microsoft’s new Gaming Mode can interfere with another new feature, Night Light. Night Light is a blue light filter system that diminishes the amount of blue light your screen emits at night time. The thought here is that if Windows can automatically warm your PC’s display output colors, thereby limiting the amount of blue light it emits, you’re going to sleep better at night. Blue light stimulates your brain and increases brain activity.

Unfortunately, the Creators Update can disable Night Light when game mode is on and you’re playing a game. In cases like these, Night Light gets disabled not only in Game Mode, but also at a system level. There are two ways to resolve this issue.

1. Display Settings
Open your video games’ video settings and switch it from full screen to borderless windowed. This should prevent Night Light from being disabled. You may notice a performance hit here, as everything will be run in a Window instead of in full screen mode. However, this shouldn’t impact FPS rates too badly.
2. Disable Night Light
if using the feature is important to you, you might want to consider going with a third party alternative. Disable Night Light and then install an app like F.lux to manage the warming of your display. Using a third party utility should also resolve any performance hits your PC might take as well.

Windows Game Bar prevents some users from streaming
Gaming updates in Windows 10 Creators Update are a big deal and are a huge addition to the overall OS. I know that the integration of Gaming in Windows 10 makes it a lot easier for my son to play Xbox One games while I still get to use the TV in my living room. He can stream games directly to his gaming desktop from the console, providing the family with a great deal of peace and quiet as no one vies for the TV screen.

In the Creators Update, Microsoft has rolled out a number of new tools, like Game Mode and a new version of the Game Bar, making Windows gaming more accessible and reliable. Microsoft’s streaming service, Beam, will now natively integrate with the Gaming Bar, allowing you to stream any game on your PC.

Unfortunately, and somewhat unsurprisingly, there are issues with streaming in the Creators Update. Beam either fails to broadcast entirely, or prevents certain accounts from streaming at all. Unfortunately, there’s no solution right now; but there are work arounds.

The easiest way around this problem, unfortunately, is the least desirable – set up a new Beam account. If you have a following on Beam, this might not be the best option for you. However, if all you’re really trying to do is stream games to a couple of your buddies, then, this just might be the way to go.

If you need to stick with your existing Beam account, you can always try signing out and signing back in. If that doesn’t work, you can try unlinking it from your Microsoft Account. You can do this through your Beam.pro account page. After you unlink Beam from your Microsoft Account, you’ll need to reinstall the Creators Update by redownloading and running the update on the ISO file.

When the update finishes, you can relink your Beam account and retry your microphone. If it still doesn’t work, you may be better off with another streaming solution like Twitch or Steam’s game streaming until Microsoft has a chance to address the issue.

Game Mode cuts off microphone access for third-party apps
Gaming on Windows 10 provides an improved experience in the Creators Update. Now, you get optimized performance of your system resource usage; or at least your supposed to. There have been reports of some microphones not working in third party apps while Game mode is enabled. When this happens, you might be better off just turning Game Mode off.

To disable Game Mode, open Settings. Under the gaming category, you can toggle Game Mode on or off inside individual games with the Game Bar, accessible when you press Win-G.

Conclusion
Microsoft’s Creators Update is the latest release of its desktop operating system, Windows 10. It brings a great deal to the table. However, it also brings users as many issues and problems as it does beneficial updates.

While the update was originally released in April of 2017, the new bits haven’t reached everyone yet. For example, after I had to wipe my Surface Book, it hasn’t come back down for me. I’m still waiting for it.

The problems and solutions I’ve outlined here are likely the most common problems, and the best solutions available for them. If you’ve bumped into these problems and resolved them, I’d love to hear about it. I’d especially like to know if you’ve resolved your issues using the solutions I’ve outlined above, or if you’ve found a different work around.

If you’ve bumped into additional problems than the ones I’ve outlined, above. I’d like to know what those are too. Have you found a way around those additional issues, or are they still a problem? If you have found a way around them, I’d love for your to share those additional solutions with the rest of the class.

Any way you slice it, kids… I’m in the Discussion area below. You need to give me the latest update on what’s going on with you and with your Windows 10 Creators Update powered PC.

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Microsoft OneDrive Screws the Pooch

Having OneDrive on a non-NTFS partition is no longer allowed…

Over the past week or so, many, but not all, Microsoft OneDrive users have been dealing with a very confusing and very troubling issue regarding Microsoft OneDrive – If your OneDrive data store is on any other volume other than an NTFS volume, OneDrive will stop synching and display the following error message

OneDrive Error Message

Like many Windows users, during the week of 2017-06-25 through 2017-07-01, everything was fine. My Surface Book and OneDrive were working as expected. With the extended Independence Day holiday here in the States, most users – myself included – were off between 2017-06-30 through 2017-07-04. My first day back to work that week was Wednesday 2017-07-05. I didn’t have my Surface Book out that day, as my day had me pretty much confined to my desk due to my extended holiday break. While my work PC has OneDrive on it, my synched files are on the main drive, and its formatted to NTFS already.

The next day, I was greeted with the error message dialog box shown above. I was totally taken by surprise and really didn’t know what to do. So, I took to Twitter, and asked one of my most reliable contacts, Mary Jo Foley if she knew what was going on. She did, and the news was both good and bad.

OneDrive NTFS

It was nice to know that the issue was known and that someone had tried to start a conversation with Microsoft on it. What I found disturbing, was that Microsoft was – and still is – virtually nonexistent on the thread. They haven’t replied at ALL to any of the users looking for any kind of answers. However, one user – Jeremy Chu – did get an answer to the inquiry he made directly with Microsoft. I’ve reproduced it in its entirety, here:

Hi,

We stopped supporting non-NTFS file systems. This is affecting users with FAT32, Exeats and ReFS file systems. Users can get unblocked by converting the drive to NTFS.

Basically all you have do is, from a command prompt, type:

convert D: /fs:ntfs (if the drive in question is currently d:\)

Or visit – http://odsp.westeurope.cloudapp.azure.com/qq/onedrive-sync-client-pushed-out-a-change-where-we/ to get more insights!!!

Unfortunately, if you were unable to do so, contact our windows support team : https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/contact/menu/

Thanks,
OneDrive Team

It’s nice that Microsoft has finally acknowledged the issue; but it took them over four days to do so; and to be honest, the thread that I’m referencing is the OFFICIAL issue thread, and they haven’t responded there at all.

At all…

As far as many of us are concerned on that thread, their lack of communication was making many think that this is a simple bump in the road; and that at some point, Microsoft would “correct” the problem. With the response that Jeremy got, that’s clearly NOT the case. And it’s very unfortunate.

Now… there are a couple of issues here. I haven’t really jumped on my rant soapbox this month, at least not until now, so please bear with me. I’m going to cover them as quickly as I can.

Terms of Service
There has to be an out for Microsoft in the OneDrive Terms of Service that basically says,

“we provide the service (even if you pay for it); and you’ll use what you’re given, the way we give it to you, or you can go elsewhere.” Or in more legal terms,

“we reserve the right to change the way the service works as we see fit, with or without any notice to you”

And if this is the case, AND you agreed to those terms of service before you started using Microsoft OneDrive, then you have little to no recourse in the matter. In truth, if you didn’t agree to the service’s terms of service, you wouldn’t be in the boat, because you wouldn’t be using it. You can’t use the service without agreeing to its terms, first. Which brings me to my second point…

Communications
Like many users, this likely wouldn’t have been an issue or a problem at all – provided that Microsoft had communicated the change – giving users the opportunity to prepare for the change. There may be some OneDrive users – and I’m thinking specifically of OneDrive for Business users – that may not be able to convert their drives to NTFS for one reason or another

If there had been some kind of notice on this, many would have had the chance to prepare for the change and either convert their drives – via the process outlined by the OneDrive Team, above – or to just blow the old data store and resync everything.

However, without any kind of heads up or official notice from Microsoft that the change was coming, many users were caught off guard… which is problematic. You never want to catch your users off guard. While the service owner can do almost anything they want once they Terms of Service are accepted by a customer, there is an aspect of service interruptions and uptime that needs to be addressed, and unfortunately, the way this initially appeared, despite the error dialog box, above, this appeared as an outage and not as the dropping of support for non-NTFS formatted drives on local data stores.

Bad form, Microsoft. Bad form!

What about other platforms??
The one big thing that I see missing here, is any kind of statement from Microsoft on how this change effects other platforms – like macOS. macOS uses HSF+ and ApFS (Apple File System) and Microsoft hasn’t said anything about how the switch to NFTS will or will not affect Macs and Mac users using OneDrive for Mac.

Then again, they also haven’t said if this has anything to do with Files on Demand or any other feature, either. Though to be honest, it like does have something to do with some OneDrive updates that are scheduled to hit in the Fall Creators Update (FCU).

However, what’s really kind of confusing is whether or not OneDrive’s NTFS requirement also excludes drives formatted with ReFS or Microsoft’s Resilient File System. ReFS is close to NTFS, but apparently doesn’t support one of the big features that OneDrive needs – reparse points. If this is the case, the question that is begged here is whether or not OneDrive will work (or continue to work) with ReFS; or better yet why Microsoft hasn’t updated ReFS to work with OneDrive.

Did you bump into this problem over the past week or so? Did you have OneDrive synching your data to an SD card or to an older, external drive that was formatted as FAT32? How did you resolve the issue? Did you do what I did and just knuckled under and reformatted the drive and resynchronized? Or did you convert the drive? Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area below, and let me know? I’d love to hear from you!

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Surface Book Supplies are Constrained – Part 1

This is not something you want to hear when you’ve got a fatal problem with your Surface Book…

A short while ago, I got a Surface Book. After searching for something to replace my Surface Pro 3, I have, in a sense, come home. During this journey, I have found that the old adage is true; and that you truly do get what you pay for.

So, realizing that a Surface device is really what I wanted, I sold the ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA in late January 2017. About a month later, since there is a Microsoft Store located near the office, I ran over and purchased an entry level Surface Book in mid-February 2017. When I purchased the device, the President’s Day sale was still going on, and the price was $250 cheaper.

On the whole, I’ve been fairly satisfied with the purchase and the model choice. It gets the job done, has all of the Surface features that I’m looking for, and didn’t break the bank.

Yeah… the clouds darken somewhat at this point.

So, I bumped into a problem with my Surface Book and needed to go back to a previous version of Windows. I plugged the Surface Book into its AC adapter and began the Restore Process that I detailed out in a two part columnar series here on Soft32 (Part 1, Part 2). I have done this before, and after you get through the preliminaries in making choices about what you want to keep and what you can live without, it’s really nothing more than letting the machine do its work.

So, I was very surprised after I started the restore and noticed that the device would only boot to its UEFI screen and then wouldn’t go any farther. In the upper right corner of the UEFI screen, you could see an icon that appears to look like a hard drive with some kind of “X” in the middle of it.

As the device was just about three (3) months old, I decided to take a two pronged approach here.

1. Follow the instructions noted on the support page Surface Turns on but Windows won’t Start. This included downloading a recovery image for my Surface Book, and then building and starting my Surface Book with the bootable USB drive that the process created.
2. Make an appointment at the Microsoft Store for service – just in case the above steps didn’t work.

To be very honest, the instructions in step number one, above, haven’t really failed me. Ever… until now.

In one previous case, I had to go to the Microsoft Store and THEY got the recovery image to boot, so when I tried and couldn’t get past the UEFI screen, I thought that they certainly would be able to.

I was wrong.

Even THEY couldn’t get my three month old Surface Book to boot from the USB based recovery image. From what we were able to determine that hard drive icon with the “X” through it indicates a bad drive controller. They declared the device dead in the water, and it qualified for a free replacement, being only 3 months old.

At this point, I was a bit upset, as I was looking at a three month old brick. There was nothing that the Microsoft Store could do to get the device to boot. However, it did qualify for a free replacement, and I thought I would be back up and running shortly.

Unfortunately, they told me, they didn’t have any replacement units available in the store. They also informed me that Microsoft’s Online Store also didn’t have any available. I gave them the whole “deer in the headlights” look. I had a difficult time understanding – there were no Surface Books to be had. From anywhere… I was dumbfounded.

What was worse, the only explanation that I got was that Surface Book supplies were, “constrained.” And that’s all anyone was able to tell me. They had no other information to share.

At this point, my options were few:

1. Leave the store with a non-functional device
This option had me calling the store to determine if they received any stock of the entry level Surface Book that could be set aside as a replacement for my defective unit. They weren’t especially confident that I’d be able to get anything from them any time soon. Again, Surface Book supplies were “constrained” was the only explanation they could give me.
2. Contact Microsoft Complete Advanced Replacement Program
Microsoft Complete provides additional and advanced warranty options for your Microsoft Surface device, should you need them. The service is $249USD and like Apple’s Apple Care, adds an additional 2 years of warranty coverage. They’ll also send you an advanced replacement if you’re a Microsoft Complete customer, should your device need immediate replacement.

There are a couple of problems with these options – because supplies of Surface Book are currently constrained, neither gets me a replacement any time soon. Due to the supply constraint, it’s also not known when a device would become available to replace my defective Surface Book. The Microsoft Complete option would also cost me $1750.00, plus tax ($249 for the privilege of having them charge me – and hold on my credit card, indefinitely – $1500 for a replacement device that they will send to me, again whenever they get one, requiring me to send my defective unit back to them).

After speaking to a manager and not finding any solution, I turned around to leave (effectively choosing option 1…).

I stopped about 5 steps away from the counter and turned back around. There were Surface Books – floor/ demo units – all over the store. Surely they could give me one of those…

NOPE! Those are demo units, and are not part of store inventory. (Awesome…!)

At that point, the manager came back over and I asked her about any other possible avenues. She quietly asked the tech that I was working with if there were any business orders prepped in the back with an appropriate Surface Book unit.

The tech nodded his head, excused himself and went into the back room again. A few moments later, he returned with a replacement unit. The Microsoft Store Manager cannibalized a business order to satisfy a consumer warranty replacement issue.

Shortly after the replacement was finished, I walked back to the office and began setting up my new Surface Book, a happy man.

Come back next time when I wrap everything up and attempt to look into a potential constraint cause, as well.

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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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Surface Truisms – You Get What you Pay For

The old adage holds true, especially when purchasing a computer…

There’s been a lot of Microsoft related news lately and I promise I will get to all of it, including the announcement about the new Surface Notebook and Windows 10 S. However, right now, I want to address something that I saw over on former co-worker Paul Thurrott’s site regarding a low priced Surface Pro competitor.

There’s been a LOT of activity when it comes to Surface in the past few weeks. Firstly there’s been a bunch of speculation and rhetoric about the lack of any kind of Surface, Surface Book or Surface Pro update in over a year. Some folks have been speculating that Microsoft would announce an update to either Surface Pro or Surface Book. Others were looking for a revival of Windows RT with some of the information that’s been shot around about Windows Cloud (now known as Windows 10 S).

Well, in light of all the hub bub, a company called CHUWI has decided to jump on the Surface bandwagon and has released a low priced Surface Pro 4 “alternative” called the CHUWI Lapbook 12.3. The price point of this little bad boy is $350 USD. It’s due to arrive sometime during May 2017.

However, don’t believe everything you see. I had a conversation with a good friend the other day – if it seems too good to be true, it is.

The CHUWI Lapbook isn’t a two in one like Surface Pro (or even Surface Book). Instead, it’s a full blown clam shell style laptop. The Lapbook, however, really doesn’t have much in common with Surface Pro or with Surface Book. As I said, it’s not a two in one, so the display doesn’t detach from the keyboard. However, it does offer a 12.3 inch PixelSense-like display with a 2736 x 1824 (or 267 dpi) display with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The aspect ratio is about as close as the device gets to being similar to the Surface Pro or the Surface Book.

Let’s be clear here, the CHUWI Lapbook is a budget classed Surface knock-off. Its powered by an Intel N3450 Apollo Lake Atom processor. It has 6GB of RAM, a 64GB SSD, integrated Intel HD Graphics, dual band Wi-Fi, and a 2MP rear camera. It also has what is suspected to be a single USB 3.0/2.0 USB port and a mini HDMI port for video out. Additional storage can be added via the device’s microSD slot.

The biggest thing you have to keep in mind here – you get what you pay for. Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book start at $799 and $1499 respectively. You aren’t going to get Intel Core i performance out of a budget Intel processor. The notebook’s design also is a traditional clam shell vs the Surface’s two in one tablet/ notebook hybrid design. It only tilts back 145°. It can’t fold all the way back. It’s clearly part of CHUWI’s PC line and not their Tablet line. However, CHUWI is taking advantage of the Surface craze as much as they can.

What you need to understand here is that there aren’t many Surface models out there, and honestly, all of them come from Microsoft. If you’re wanting a Surface device, then you really should get one. Otherwise, you aren’t going to be happy. It doesn’t matter how good your “Surface substitute” may be, if it’s not what you want, then you’re really just kidding yourself. Do yourself a favor and save your money. Buy the device you want or save up until you can. It doesn’t make sense to purchase something that is meant to be a replacement for the real thing. Substitutes for the real thing don’t do much more than disappoint you in the end, no matter how good they are in their own right…

I’m just sayin’…

However, that doesn’t mean that CHUWI’s products are a waste of time and money. That depends on you and what you’re really looking for. The company has some decent offerings if you’re ok with the performance you’re going to get from Intel’s Atom processor line. The devices they offer are nearly all covered in magnesium alloy. Many of them also have detachable keyboards, either come with or have some kind of active stylus/ pen available for them and run Windows 10.

Again, you just really need to understand what you’re buying and be happy with it. If you don’t need the power of an Intel Core i processor and want to save the money, CHUWI has some pretty compelling products.

Come back next time. I’m going to take a quick look at Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop and Windows 10 S. While I am not going to have either in hand to do a full blown review, I’m interested to dig in and see a bit more about what Microsoft thinks they’re going to solve with a Surface branded laptop as opposed to a two in one convertible/ hybrid and with Windows 10 S.

Both of these seem to be a trip down a road that Microsoft has been over before. I’m curious to know and to speculate a bit on why they seem to be repeating themselves a bit and why they seem to think that a repeat is going to fare any better now than it did before.

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Is it Really Just Superficial?

Is my love for digital ink and Microsoft Surface PC’s on the level, or just skin deep?

Ok, kids…

I’m going to make this one quick and short for a few reasons – I’ve got a lot on my plate right now; and I want to really get to the meat of all of this in a deeper look at Microsoft’s Surface Book, intended to be published in the coming weeks.

However, I did want to relay a couple of things:

  1. Accept No Substitutes
    When you know you have your heart set on something, no matter how much it really just didn’t sit right with you in the first place, don’t try to convince yourself that something ELSE is just as good.In other words, even though it’s about one third the price, and has decent performance, the ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA is NOT either Microsoft’s Surface Pro nor Microsoft’s Surface Book. As awesome as Intel’s Cherry Trail processor is, it’s not an Intel Core processor (no Intel Atom processor is…) and it isn’t going to provide the same level of performance.
  2. It’s not What I WantedWhen you’re met with the unmistakable conclusion that you were wrong and that you should just accept the facts as they are and move on, you really should do just that.
  3. Don’t be so Damn Stubborn
    Dude. Just say the words…, “I was wrong.” It’s not all that hard. Just say the words.

Ok…

So… here it goes:

  1. There really isn’t a substitute for the Microsoft Surface Pro or Surface Book. They’re basically the same 3×2 convertible ultrabook (with some minor differences). While you may prefer one over the other for one (set of) reason(s) or another, they’re effectively the same. No other transformer PC or ultrabook out there is the Surface Pro/ Book. There are similar devices, like the ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA, but they are NOT a Surface device, and shouldn’t be thought of as a Surface replacement.They are similar, but NOT the same
  2. You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. You can’t change the shape of your hole, either. If you want a round object, squaring it off isn’t going to make you happy. When you look at it, all you’re going to see is the fact that it used to be a circle.You can’t MAKE something into something it’s not. You hear that a lot about people, too… Yeah, it’s true there, too.
  3. Unde. I give, already.Okokokok… “you” were right. They’re not the same, and I just have to give in and let it go.

If you remember, I originally tossed my Surface Pro 3 to the wind because of the digital, disappearing ink bug that the Surface Pro (all generations – 1, 2, 3 and 4) and the Surface Book have.

The bug is still active, even as of this writing, and while I have implemented the work around, a work around is NOT a solution. Functionality on the Surface Pro series of devices is still deprecated in Microsoft OneNote. While I’ve disable “Use Pen as Pointer” and have turned off “automatic ink OCR,” having to use a work around just makes my teeth itch.

But then again, I’m a QA guy… defaulting to the work arounds is required to insure that ink doesn’t disappear, however, living with the work around and not a permanent fix just seems wrong to me.

But at the end of the day, the answer to the begged question here, “really..?? After all the complaining, you actually got a Surface Book??”, is, “yes. Yes I did.

The Surface Book has been around for quite a while, so doing a ground breaking review on it isn’t warranted, but I’ll have something together for it in the coming weeks. I’ve gotten an accessory or two for the device, so I’m committed to making it work; but the answer to that question, in all honestly, really remains to be seen.

I don’t like going backwards; and I don’t like having to put up with bugs on a machine, that by all accounts, should be the most bug free installation and implementation of Windows 10 and compatible hardware on the market. It feels wrong to me to have to put up with that kind of situation, and to be very honest, I’m not one to put up with that level of crap from Microsoft.

I don’t put up with it from Apple either, but the situation is a bit different. Windows is different from macOS in this regard because Microsoft licenses its OS to a number of different Original Equipment Manufacturers – or OEM’s. As such, there are a number of different drivers that have to be written for the OS, because – and let’s be honest – not all computer hardware is created equally.

I expect a great deal more from Microsoft Windows when it runs on a Microsoft branded computer than when it runs on a Dell or HP or even a Micro Center, build your own style PC. I expect everything on the Microsoft branded computer to work; and in the case of the Surface devices their history has been a bit bumpy.

If you remember, Microsoft had a number of different driver and firmware related problems with both Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. Other OEM’s haven’t had this level of difficulty with their computers, especially when it comes to Microsoft software, like Office 2016 and all of their components.

In the end, with the work around, things work, but herein lies the article that I want to write later…

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Microsoft Surface Gets a Desktop All in One

Microsoft will be introducing Surface Studio on 2016-10-26

If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then Microsoft is going out of its way to tell Apple how awesome it truly is.

Microsoft has done a lot to chase after Apple in the past six and a half years or so, since the release of the iPad. Their TabletPC’s couldn’t stand up to the iPad, and so they mostly disappeared by the end of 2012. By 2013 and 2014, Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 had firmly taken hold and were making some inroads, but more in the PC market than the tablet market. The Surface Pro – in all its variations – is NOT a tablet. It’s an ultrabook (or ultra-notebook). Despite “Tablet Mode,” it’s not a tablet. A successful tablet requires a successfully implemented ecosystem for content acquisition and consumption, and Microsoft doesn’t have that…but I digress.

So, Microsoft has a tablet-like, computer really, device in Surface Pro and Surface Book, and now, it appears they are chasing after all-in-one’s as well with a new device rumored to be announced on 2016-10-26, apparently named Surface Studio.

surface-studio

My good friend, Mary Jo Foley broke this last month with a heads up on the October Microsoft event. According to Mary Jo, Surface Studio was previously code named, Project Cardinal; and the intent of the new hardware is to turn your desktop into a studio. The device is rumored to come in up to three different sizes – 21″, 24″ and 27″; and MAY also be the consumerized version of Microsoft’s enterprise focused Surface Hub a large screen conference and collaboration tool, previously known as Perceptive Pixel.

If this is the case, then this will be an interesting entry into the already saturated, and sadly, poor performing, desktop market. Running Windows 10 – likely Anniversary Update – the Surface Studio will feature a way to convert the all-in-one from the standard desktop format into a flat drawing and writing surface, ideal for creating paintings, drawings and other touch and stylus work.

According to the engineering drawing, above, the screen will likely fold down over its base with the assistance of some type of pneumatic or spring powered hinges. It is also rumored that Microsoft has trademarked the names Surface Laptop, Paint 3D,Surface Dial and Dial as well as Surface Studio. It is believed that Surface Dial and Dial refer to either a radial styled, creator-based interface for the Studio. Others believe it to be connected to the further rumored Surface Phone

Any way you slice this, however, it’s likely that much of what Microsoft announces on 2016-10-26 will likely be overshadowed by the Apple’s marketing machine and hype when it reveals its anticipated Mac hardware refresh the following day, 2016-10-27.

Hopefully, for Microsoft, their rumored hardware will be compelling enough to help provide the shot in the arm that the Windows consumer PC market needs to turn it back towards profitability. Because right now, it could really use the shot in the arm.

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