Incoming patches for all IE versions

Subject: General Tech | April 28, 2014 - 12:27 PM |
Tagged: internet explorer, windows, microsoft

We have another IE flaw, one which applies to IE6 though IE11 and officially all versions of Windows since Vista; unofficially it will also effect the non-supported legacy OS versions as well.  This particular issue is not a memory overflow but instead is what is referred to as use-after-free which does make it somewhat harder to craft a webpage to take advantage of.  Corporate users of the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit should make sure their users are up to date while the rest of us who are using IE should consider Protected Mode or upping your Security to high.  Pop by The Register for a link to the full description of the vulnerability.

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"The flaw means the browser “may corrupt memory in a way that could allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code in the context of the current user within Internet Explorer"."

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Source: The Register

BUILD 2014: Windows Sideloading Changes Announced

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | April 8, 2014 - 01:11 AM |
Tagged: BUILD 2014, microsoft, windows, winRT

A few days ago, I reported on the news from BUILD 2014 that Windows would see the return of the Start Menu and windowed apps. These features, which are not included with today's Windows 8.1 Update 1, will come in a later version. While I found these interface changes interesting, I reiterated that the user interface was not my concern: Windows Store certification was. I did leave room for a little hope, however, because Microsoft scheduled an announcement of changes. It was focused on enterprise customers, so I did not hold my breath.

And some things did change... but not enough for the non-enterprise user.

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Microsoft is still hanging on to the curation of apps, except for "domain-joined" x86 Enterprise and x86 Pro PCs; RT devices and "not domain-joined" computers will only allow sideloaded apps with a key. This certificate (key) is not free for everyone. Of course, this does not have anything to do with native x86 applications. Thankfully, the prospect of WinRT APIs eventually replacing Win32, completely, seems less likely now. It could still be possible if Windows Store has a major surge in popularity but, as it stands right now, Microsoft seems to be spending less effort containing x86 for an eventual lobotomy.

If it does happen, it would be a concern for a variety of reasons:

  1. Governments, foreign or domestic, who pressure Microsoft to ban encryption software.

  2. Internet Explorer's Trident would have no competition to adopt new web standards.

  3. Cannot create an app for just a friend or family member (unless it's a web app in IE).

  4. When you build censorship, the crazies will come with demands to abuse it.

So I am still concerned about the future of Windows. I am still not willing to believe that Microsoft will support x86-exclusive applications until the end of time. If that happens, and sideloading is not publicly available, and web standards are forced into stagnation by a lack of alternative web browsers, then I can see bad times ahead. I will not really feel comfortable until a definitive pledge to allow users to control what can go on their device, even if Microsoft (or people with some form of authority over them) dislikes it, is made.

But I know that many disagree with me. What are your thoughts? Comment away!

Source: ZDNet

Build 2014: Microsoft Presents New Start Menu

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | April 2, 2014 - 09:53 PM |
Tagged: BUILD 2014, microsoft, windows, start menu

Microsoft had numerous announcements during their Build 2014 opening keynote, which makes sense as they needed to fill the three hours that they assigned for it. In this post, I will focus on the upcoming changes to the Windows desktop experience. Two, albeit related, features were highlighted: the ability to run Modern Apps in a desktop window, and the corresponding return of the Start Menu.

I must say, the way that they grafted Start Screen tiles on the Start Menu is pretty slick. The Start Menu, since Windows Vista, has felt awkward with its split between recently used applications and common shortcuts in a breakout on the right with an expanded "All Programs" submenu handle on the bottom. It is functional, and it works perfectly fine, but something just felt weird about it. This looks a lot cleaner, in my opinion, especially since its width is variable according to how many applications are pinned.

Of course, my major complaint with Windows 8.x has nothing to do with the interface. There has not been any discussion around sideloading applications to get around Windows Store certification requirements. This is a major concern for browser vendors and should be one for many others, from hobbyists who might want to share their creations with one or two friends or family members, rather than everyone in an entire Windows Store region, or citizens of countries whose governments might pressure Microsoft to ban encryption or security applications.

That said, there is a session tomorrow called "Deploying and Managing Enterprise Apps", discussing changes app sideloading in Windows 8.1. Enterprise users are already allowed sideloading certificates from Microsoft. Maybe it will be expanded? I am not holding my breath.

Keep an eye out, because there should be a lot of news over the next couple of days.

Source: ZDNet

Mozilla Dumps "Metro" Version of Firefox

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | March 16, 2014 - 03:27 AM |
Tagged: windows, mozilla, microsoft, Metro

If you use the Firefox browser on a PC, you are probably using its "Desktop" application. They also had a version for "Modern" Windows 8.x that could be used from the Start Screen. You probably did not use it because fewer than 1000 people per day did. This is more than four orders of magnitude smaller than the number of users for Desktop's pre-release builds.

Yup, less than one-thousandth.

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Jonathan Nightingale, VP of Firefox, stated that Mozilla would not be willing to release the product without committing to its future development and support. There was not enough interest to take on that burden and it was not forecast to have a big uptake in adoption, either.

From what we can see, it's pretty flat.

The code will continue to exist in the organization's Mercurial repository. If "Modern" Windows gets a massive influx of interest, they could return to what they had. It should also be noted that there never was a version of Firefox for Windows RT. Microsoft will not allow third-party rendering engines as a part of their Windows Store certification requirements (everything must be based on Trident, the core of Internet Explorer). That said, this is also true of iOS and Firefox Junior exists with these limitations. It's not truly Firefox, little more than a re-skinned Safari (as permitted by Apple), but it exists. I have heard talks about Firefox Junior for Windows RT, Internet Explorer reskinned by Mozilla, but not to any detail. The organization is very attached to its own technology because, if whoever made the engine does not support new features or lags in JavaScript performance, the re-skins have nothing to leverage it.

Paul Thurrott of WinSupersite does not blame Mozilla for killing "Metro" Firefox. He acknowledges that they gave it a shot and did not see enough pre-release interest to warrant a product. He places some of the blame on Microsoft for the limitations it places on browsers (especially on Windows RT). In my opinion, this is just a symptom of the larger problem of Windows post-7. Hopefully, Microsoft can correct these problems and do so in a way that benefits their users (and society as a whole).

Source: Mozilla

Microsoft's Begging Now

Subject: General Tech | February 8, 2014 - 07:26 PM |
Tagged: windows xp, windows, microsoft

Windows XP will be end-of-life in just 59 days and Microsoft is concerned. They want to enlist their blog readers as tech support who encourages the upgrade to Windows 8.1 directly, or by the purchase of a new PC. Of course, they are not going to provide any incentive or discount. They just hope that a little peer pressure is all they need.

I will not beat someone up for being a dreamer, but...

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The security nightmare is real, however. It is expected that attackers are hoarding vulnerabilities until after April 8th, when open security holes will remain without patch. Some customers will be allowed paid extra support, apparently at the price of $200 per PC for a year. Of course, this is common practice and can limit the number affected by the rumored malware apocalypse.

Then again, I expect that plenty of those machines are already ripe with infection.

Microsoft seems to be hoping that the exodus from Windows XP will land in Windows 8.1 and solve two problems at once. Windows 7 is still available in devices and resellers who stocked up on old installation media, both in spite of Microsoft (rather than endorsed).

For the rest of us, sit back and watch. I will make a crazy prediction and claim that, sometime between now and June, Microsoft should flinch in some way. It could be the re-introduction of Windows 7, some promotion or discount for retailers or system builders, or whatever.

I think they will be disappointed by April.

Source: Windows Blog

The complaints about the emasculated Start button seem to have hit a Threshold

Subject: General Tech | December 10, 2013 - 12:43 PM |
Tagged: windows, microsoft, threshold, win 8.2

Two rumours about Microsoft are making the rounds right now, the first about the impending death of one their OSes is pretty easy to understand; there is no polite way to describe WinRT.  The second is both more interesting and also harder to believe, Project Threshold could possibly see the return of a fully functional Start button to a newly updated desktop version called Windows 8.2 as apparently Service Packs are no longer cool.  Project Threshold is bigger than just a button as the rumours have this updating Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox One with the possibility that WinRT gets rolled into the Windows Phone OS.  While there are ways to modify Win 8.1 to allow a more classical interface it will be a big step forward in usability if it becomes native.  You can follow the links at The Register to the source of these rumours.

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"According to Winsupersite, Microsoft is planning the return of the Windows Start button under the codename "Threshold", and this will be the first time we'll see it in its original form since Windows 7."

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Source: The Register

How Many OSes Does Microsoft Need?

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | December 5, 2013 - 06:53 PM |
Tagged: windows, microsoft

Peter Bright at Ars Technica is wondering how many operating systems (OSes) Microsoft actually needs and, for that matter, how many they already have. Three consumer versions of Windows exists (or brands of it does): Windows RT, "full" Windows, and Windows Phone. Then again, it is really difficult to divide up what a unique operating system even is. All of the aforementioned "OSes" run on the same base kernel and even app compatibility does not align to that Venn diagram.

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In my personal opinion, it really does not matter how many (or what) operating systems Microsoft has. That innate desire to categorize things into boxes really does nothing useful. At best, it helps you create relationships between it and other platforms; these comparisons may not even be valid. Sure, from the perspective of Microsoft's marketing team, these categories help convey information about their products to consumers.

... And if recent trends mean anything: very incorrect and confusing information.

So really, and I believe this is what Peter Bright was getting at, who cares how many OSes Microsoft has? The concern should really be what these products mean for consumers. In that sense, I really hope we trend towards the openness of the last couple Internet Explorer versions (and of course Windows 7) and further from the censored nature of Windows RT.

You can have 800 channels or just a single one but that doesn't mean something good is on.

Source: Ars Technica

Win7's market share continues to climb

Subject: General Tech | December 2, 2013 - 01:05 PM |
Tagged: Windows 7, windows, win 8.1, microsoft

There is bad news at The Inquirer for anyone at Microsoft who is still labouring under the delusion than Win 8 + 8.1 will catch on just as soon as people see it in action.  Not only does Win7 continue to hold a larger share of the market compared to its metrosexual cousin, Win7's market share is growing faster than Win 8+ 8.1, 0.22% growth compared to 0.05%.  When people are willing to pay extra to remove Win8.1 from their shiny new toys and replace it with Win7 it says a lot about the acceptance of the new OS, currently even Vista holds a greater market share than Win 8.1, though Win 8 does have slightly more.  You should also take note that as of today there are a mere 126 days before WinXP is no longer supported.

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"PC OPERATING SYSTEM FLOGGER Microsoft's Windows 7 still holds more market share than Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 combined."

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Source: The Inquirer

The TIFF of Doom!

Subject: General Tech | November 6, 2013 - 04:08 PM |
Tagged: security, Malware, TIFF, windows

A newly discovered flaw in the handling of TIFF image files effects machines running Windows Vista or Server 2008 as well as Office 2003 to 2010 and Microsoft Lync products on WinXP and Win7 with Windows 8 being the only one that does not contain this vulnerability.  According to The Register attack code is launched when the image is display with tricks the "OS into copying malicious code stashed in the file into memory and then hijacking the processor to execute it."

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"The software giant said the flaw allows attackers to remotely execute code and install malware on a vulnerable system by sending an email or instant message or convincing a user to open a specially crafted webpage."

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Source: The Register

AMD Catalyst 13.10 Beta V2 has been released for Windows and Linux

Subject: Graphics Cards | September 30, 2013 - 06:30 PM |
Tagged: graphics drivers, catalyst 13.10, beta, windows, linux

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AMD Catalyst 13.10 Beta V2 for Windows:

  • Includes 32-bit single GPU and CrossFire game profile for Battlefield 4
  • Total War: Rome 2 CrossFire profile update
  • CrossFire frame pacing improvements for CPU-bound applications
  • Resolves image corruption seen in Autodesk Investor 2014
  • Resolves intermittent black screen when resuming from a S3/S4 sleep state if the display is unplugged during the sleep state on systems supporting AMD Enduro Technology
  • Updated AMD Enduro Technology application profiles

o Profile highlights:

  • Total War: Rome 2
  • Battlefield 4
  • Saints Row 4
  • Splinter Cell Blacklist
  • FIFA 14

AMD Catalyst 13.10 Beta for Linux:

Resolved issue highlights:

  • System hang up when startx after setting up an Eyefinity desktop.
  • Permission issue with procfs on kernel 3.10
  • System hang observed while running disaster stress test on Ubuntu 12.10
  • Hang is observed when running Unigine on Linux
  • AC/DC switching is not automatically detected
  • Laptop backlight adjustment is broken
  • Glxtest failures observed in log file with forcing on Anti-Aliasing
  • Cairo-dock is broken
  • Severe desktop corruption is observed when enabled compiz in certain cases 
  • glClientWaitSync is waiting even when timeout is 0
  • C4Engine get corruption with GL_ARB_texture_array enabled

Source: AMD