Subject: General Tech | April 17, 2015 - 07:00 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows xp, windows, microsoft, google, EoL, chrome
It has been a year since Microsoft cut off extended support for Windows XP including Internet Explorer security updates for the platform. Yeah, I know, it doesn't feel like it. Other browser vendors announced that they would continue to target the retired OS after Microsoft washed their hands of it. At the time, Google said they would give at least 12 months support, which brings us to yesterday.
Now Google is extending their commitment to the end of the year. They did not say that it was a hard deadline for their customers, but they also did not add an “at least” qualifier this time. The browser vendor wants people to upgrade and admits that they cannot genuinely provide a secure experience if a known issue bites everyone at the OS level. You can keep training the guard at the door, but if your window falls out, mind the pun, then it is still dangerous to be inside.
Granted, we have not seen a major attack on XP over the last year. You would have to think that, even if the attacks are sophisticated, some of the victims would have noticed and reported it to someone. Still, I wonder how it keeps surviving, especially since I would have thought that at least one vulnerability in the last twelve Patch Tuesdays could be ported back to it.
Maybe it is too small of a target?
Subject: General Tech | April 16, 2015 - 05:21 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, virtual desktops, microsoft
Virtual Desktops is one of the largest interface changes for Windows 10. It is an organizational feature, which allows users to group relevant windows together. This puts them out of sight when you don't want them but also easily accessible when you do, and with the programs that you would want to use alongside them.
Microsoft is wondering about one specific area though: should running applications be visible in other desktops? Some believe that a virtual desktop should only show icons for applications in the current context, and alt+tab should behave the same. It makes sense, because otherwise you're exposing the clutter in the taskbar and alt+tab, which are some of the most visible places. Others want everything to be visible at all times, or alt+tab-able to at all time. I guess this is to reduce the clutter on the desktop, without touching the clutter otherwise?
Microsoft has stated clearly that both cases will be user-selectable because there is enough usage on both sides. A user can have virtual desktops affect the taskbar or not, or alt-tab or not, independently. The question they are trying to solve right now is “What should the default be?”
If you are a Windows 10 Technical Preview user, and you care about the adoption of Virtual Desktops, Microsoft might push you into one or the other camp. Later, they will pop up a notification to ask your opinion once they feel you have used it long enough.
This is one area that your vote will influence Windows 10 in a very specific way.
Subject: General Tech | April 15, 2015 - 05:42 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, build 10041, build 10049, microsoft, trillian, cerulean studios
Since the release of Windows 10 Build 10041, Trillian, the instant messenger client, suffered some issues regarding window sizing (along with Firefox, Chrome, and a few other applications). Basically, the window would progressively shrink every time you type and the resize controls would hang about five pixels outside the window edge. Some windows would also “be open” but cannot be unminimized, requiring you to close them in the task bar and reopen them by double-clicking on the contact.
Cerulean Studios has just released Trillian 5.6 Beta, along with its associated release notes, which seem to address both of these issues. I say seem because the latter issue (chat windows staying minimized forever) was intermittent, so I can't tell whether my testing is simply luck. That said, I tried to make it happen and I couldn't. Either way, the chat window shrinking bug was vastly more annoying.
Before this update, Trillian was just about useless on Windows 10. The only way to get it somewhat function was to maximize the window to a full monitor. Even snapping it to the left side of the screen would not prevent it from slowly shrinking itself.
I hope this news helps some of our readers as much as it helps me!
Subject: General Tech | April 10, 2015 - 07:30 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, windows, microsoft, build 10056
Moving up five steps from the 10051 leak that was published just a few days ago, another build was leaked: 10056. The first thing Neowin, who reported on the WZor leak, noticed is the new Recycling Bin icon. People were not a fan of the change that occurred with 10041, which honestly looked like it was out of a Mike Judge cartoon. It is now a semi-transparent, almost prism-shaped bin from a dimetric viewpoint. That should make some people happy.
Also visible is a new “Virtual Desktop” icon and a relocation of the power menu button from the top right to the bottom left. This shift puts it alongside every other control except the Start menu's fullscreen button, which remains in the corner. To me, this looks a lot more organized.
On the topic of future builds, Gabe Aul seems to be implying that Slow Ring users would not get 10049. This likely means that Fast will get another build soon, which we would expect to trickle down to the “Slow” users on 10041. The proximity to Build confuses that slightly though. It is possible that Microsoft will do what they did with 9926 and delay Fast builds so they can have a highly-tested preview build (“Technical Preview 3” or something) pushed to both Fast and Slow rings to surprise attendees of the conference. Well, as much as they can hide stuff given that every few builds are being dissected online. I'm sure they have a lot of work being done in external branches though.
Either way, we'll find out soon... even if that's by not finding out soon.
Subject: General Tech | April 6, 2015 - 04:53 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, leaked build, leak, build 10051
This leaked build arrives just two versions ahead of the latest public release from last week. As such, not much has changed, but some things have. First, Mail and Calendar have been replaced with an upgrade under the Outlook branding. Those apps make up the majority of known changes for this not-release. One change to Project Spartan has also been spotted by WinBeta in their walkthrough. Spartan now includes an “Open with Internet Explorer” option. The concept seems to be if you visit a website that was designed for Internet Explorer, you can easily switch to the other Microsoft browser.
A new app, Microsoft Family, has also been added but it currently consists of a Windows Live logo leading into a completely blank screen. More specifically, it is the Windows Live 3d characters in the same arrangement as the silhouettes on Microsoft Family Safety. As such, it will probably be a parental control application.
There will probably be a few more builds until we get one pushed down Windows Update, but at least we can see a bit more of what's going on behind the scenes.
Subject: General Tech | March 31, 2015 - 04:47 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft, build 10049
Less than two weeks after releasing the last preview build, 10041, Microsoft has pushed an update for users in the “Fast” ring. We have been asking for more rapid releases and we are beginning to get them. I spent quite a bit of Monday downloading, installing, and rebooting to install Build 10049. Now that I have used it for a bit, I can give my opinion.
Before we get to what's new, I would like to get into what is fixed (and broken). First, apparently Visual Studio 2015 has some issues, particularly with deploying to external devices. On the other hand, my usage of Visual Studio 2013 seems fine and stable. Second, a bug is preventing Hyper-V from being enabled for users who want to create a virtual machine. If you upgrade to 10049 from a previous build, where Hyper-V has been activated, then “everything works fine” when you update.
One of the listed bugs for Build 10041 (the previous build) was that Windows Update would tell you to restart to complete updates even if nothing was installed, and that the messages could be “ignored safely”. I never had that happen in 10041, but have seen it this afternoon in 10049. No big deal.
As for fixed? When I upgraded to 10041, StarCraft II stopped working and apparently the bug extended to Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel, League of Legends, and others. This has been fixed in 10049. I can play StarCraft II without problems. Yay! Also, many sections of the new Settings app crashed when I attempted to open them. This nuisance has been bugging me since one of the earlier builds from last year. It has mostly been fixed now. The only hiccup is “Apps & features”, which sometimes (but not always) crashes after the loading bar completes.
Apparently Cortana has been given some non-descript update. They might be referring to its integration with Spartan, which I have yet to test, but it is still unable to, for instance, set a timer or launch Photoshop.
It took me two installs to get it actually on my system, but it seems to be very stable for a pre-release operating system with a bunch of unfinished APIs and drivers. Looking good (but I'm still scared of Windows Dev Certification)!
Subject: General Tech | March 30, 2015 - 01:35 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Surface Pro 3, microsoft
While the ARM based Surface model seemed likely to disappear there are many hints that the Surface Pro models powered by x86 processors are going nowhere and that even Windows RT will stick around. More evidence came today from The Register who read through a Microsoft post and highlighted several updates to the UEFI in the Surface Pro 3 aimed at Enterprise users. Some of the updates are minor but very useful, you can now set the boot device for the device in the UEFI instead of needing to physically push a button during boot. One security feature which is key to the adoption of this device in the Enterprise is as being able to control what devices are functional on the Surface and with this update you can disable various connections as well as the USB ports. The final feature, being able to make changes to the UEFI remotely has been enabled but the tool needed to do so is not yet available.
The device originally seemed doomed to failure but Microsoft has found a market for their tablet and we will be seeing new models soon.
"As explained in a blog post by Redmond's JC Hornbeck, the latest update to the Surface Pro 3's Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) adds new features for enterprise customers but only minor improvements for consumers."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Chip rumor-gasm: Intel to buy Altera! Samsung to buy AMD! ... or not @ The Register
- Intel reportedly in talks to buy Altera for £7bn in IoT push @ The Inquirer
- If Samsung bought AMD would it be a good move? @ Kitguru
- Samsung Galaxy S6 & S6 Edge Launch Date & Prices @ Tech ARP
- What To Do If You Destroyed Your Apple iPhone @ Tech ARP
- Did we just wake up in an alternate universe? BlackBerry turns a profit @ The Register
- Turning A Basement Into A Big Linux Server Room @ Phoronix
- Tech ARP 2015 Mega Giveaway
Our first DX12 Performance Results
Late last week, Microsoft approached me to see if I would be interested in working with them and with Futuremark on the release of the new 3DMark API Overhead Feature Test. Of course I jumped at the chance, with DirectX 12 being one of the hottest discussion topics among gamers, PC enthusiasts and developers in recent history. Microsoft set us up with the latest iteration of 3DMark and the latest DX12-ready drivers from AMD, NVIDIA and Intel. From there, off we went.
First we need to discuss exactly what the 3DMark API Overhead Feature Test is (and also what it is not). The feature test will be a part of the next revision of 3DMark, which will likely ship in time with the full Windows 10 release. Futuremark claims that it is the "world's first independent" test that allows you to compare the performance of three different APIs: DX12, DX11 and even Mantle.
It was almost one year ago that Microsoft officially unveiled the plans for DirectX 12: a move to a more efficient API that can better utilize the CPU and platform capabilities of future, and most importantly current, systems. Josh wrote up a solid editorial on what we believe DX12 means for the future of gaming, and in particular for PC gaming, that you should check out if you want more background on the direction DX12 has set.
One of DX12 keys for becoming more efficient is the ability for developers to get closer to the metal, which is a phrase to indicate that game and engine coders can access more power of the system (CPU and GPU) without having to have its hand held by the API itself. The most direct benefit of this, as we saw with AMD's Mantle implementation over the past couple of years, is improved quantity of draw calls that a given hardware system can utilize in a game engine.
Subject: General Tech | March 25, 2015 - 06:23 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, windows, windows 10, winRT, windows rt
Even though I am really liking the Windows 10 operating system from a technical standpoint, I did not mind Windows 8.x, as software, either. My concern was its promotion of the Windows Store for the exact same reasons that I dislike the iOS App Store. Simply put, for your application to even exist, Microsoft (or Apple) needs to certify you as a developer, which they can revoke at any time, and they need to green light your creations.
This has a few benefits, especially for Microsoft. First and foremost, it gives them a killswitch for malicious software and their developers. Second, it gives them as much control over the platform as they want. If devices start flowing away from x86 to other instruction sets, like we almost saw a few years ago, then Windows can pick up and go with much less friction than the corner they painted themselves into with Win32.
This also means that developers need to play ball, even for terms that Microsoft is forced to apply because of pressure for specific governments. LGBT groups should be particularly concerned as other platforms are already banning apps that are designed for their members. Others could be concerned about encryption and adult art, even in Western nations. If Microsoft, or someone with authority over them, doesn't want your content to exist: it's gone (unless it can run in a web browser).
On the plus side, I don't see the rule where third-party browser engines are banned anymore. When Windows 8 launched, all browsers needed to be little more than a reskin of Internet Explorer.
Beyond censorship, if Microsoft does not offer a side-loading mechanism for consumers, you also might need to give Microsoft a cut of your sales. You don't even seem to be able to give your app to specific people. If you want to propose to your significant other via a clever app, there does not seem to be a method to share it outside of the Windows Store unless you set up their device as a Window developer ahead of time.
Why do I say all this today? Because Microsoft has branded Universal Apps as Windows apps, and their strategy seems to be completely unchanged in these key areas. What kept me from updating to Windows 8 was not its user interface. It was the same thing that brought me to develop in Web technologies and volunteer for Mozilla.
It was the developer certification and lack of side-loading for modern apps.
I get it. Microsoft is tired of being bullied with crap about how it is insecure and a pain for the general public. At the very least, they need a way for users to opt out, though. What they are doing with Windows 10 is very nice, and I would like to see it as my main operating system, but I need to prioritize alternative platforms if this one is heading in a very dark direction.
Win32 might be a legacy API, but the ability to write what I want should not be.
Subject: General Tech | March 22, 2015 - 09:14 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: windows 10, Secure Boot, microsoft, linux
Secure Boot is a security measure that prevents malware from interfering with the boot process, but it can also prevent unsigned operating systems from booting on the same hardware. While Microsoft’s “Designed for Windows 8” guidelines required manufacturers to permit users to disable the Secure Boot option, the upcoming Windows 10 release will not have this rule in effect. At WinHEC it has been revealed that Windows 10 guidelines leave it up to the OEM to decide if they will allow users to disable UEFI Secure Boot in the system setup, and making this optional presents an interesting question about compatibility with other operating systems. OEM's will be required to ship computers with Secure Boot enabled to comply with “Designed for…” rules, and while they could then choose to provide the option to disable it (currently the required standard), preventing user installation of other OS software could be seen as a way to streamline support by eliminating variables.
Why does this matter if most people who purchase a Windows 10 computer will run Windows 10 on it? This could be an issue for someone who wished to either replace that Windows 10 installation with another OS, or simply dual-boot with an OS that didn’t support the Secure Boot feature (which could be a build of Linux or even an older version of Windows). Requiring OS files to contain digital signatures effectively locks out other operating systems without special workarounds or keys, and although open-source operating systems represent a small segment of the market thanks to the way computer hardware is sold to most people, it is concerning to think future hardware could cause a loss of the freedom of choice we have always had with operating systems.
Microsoft enjoys market dominance with Windows thanks to its licensing model (giving it a monopoly on pre-built PC systems that don’t have an Apple or Chrome logo on them), but reportedly began considering possibilities "to assert its intellectual property against Linux or any other open-source software” a decade ago, and this has reached farther than they probably imagined with the adoption of Android (from which Microsoft makes money on every device sold). Is this Secure Boot move nefarious, and does Microsoft consider Linux to be a potential threat to the their desktop market share? It could be that Microsoft would simply like to claim that Windows 10 is the safest version of Windows yet, and that isn’t a bad thing for consumers. Unless they want to easily use another OS on the hardware they purchased, that is.