Crazy, I'm crazy for feeling so buggy ... then Microsoft called it off

Subject: General Tech | May 9, 2017 - 12:43 PM |
Tagged: security essentials, security, microsoft, fud, endpoint, defender

You have probably already read about the bug which effects all Microsoft's security programs, from basic home apps like Defender through to professional level Forefront Security for SharePoint discovered by Google Project Zero researchers.  It was certainly a bad one, utilizing the act of scanning a file for malware as the infection vector, striking similar to the way some viruses hijack our own immune systems. 

The good news is that Microsoft started pushing out a fix for the bug on Monday; as the bug was hinted at publicly on Friday someone must have put in a long weekend.  This quick turnaround is very nice to see and demonstrates the usefulness of publicly announcing the existence of a threat, without revealing the details to the public immediately.  Bug bounty programs are a good thing but if they involve NDAs it can lead to delays in resolutions as there is little pressure on the software developers to push out an immediate fix.  As The Register states, responsibly disclosing the existence of a bug, especially a major one such as this, you get a quick turn around like we saw from Microsoft. 

Update if you got 'em!

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"On the second point, well, we hate to break it to you but all software has bugs – especially Microsoft's code. There are any number of horrible remote code execution flaws in Windows and Office right now, sitting there waiting for white and black hats to find and exploit. Being told, yes, there is definitely a bad bug lurking in among the ones and zeroes doesn't make you less secure."

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Source: The Register

New Microsoft Surface Laptop Announced with Windows 10 S

Subject: Mobile | May 2, 2017 - 11:33 AM |
Tagged: Windows 10 S, touchscreen, surface laptop, surface, microsoft, Intel, core i7, core i5

Microsoft has announced their new Surface Laptop, which notably leaked just yesterday, but the surprising part was not the hardware at all - however sleek and impressive it might be. Yes, it seems I spoke too soon with the Windows 10 S news, as this consumer (I assume) product is shipping with that new version of the OS which only allows apps to be installed from the Windows Store.

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As to the hardware, it is milled from a block of aluminum (as shown in a very Apple-like video) and the heat pipes for the processor are milled into the bottom case to help make this so thin, but the laptop will undoubtedly feel warm to the touch during use (a fact which was mentioned on stage as a positive thing). The palmrest/keyboard is coated in a fabric material called Alcantara, rather than being bare metal and plastic. The combination of warmth (literally) and the fabric surface is supposed to make the new laptop feel very friendly, as the narrative went.

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Thankfully (in my opinion, anyway) the bizarre flexible hinge of the prior Surface laptop is gone in favor of a conventional one - and with it the air gap from he previous design. Among the features mentioned for this new Surface were its PixelSense screen, which is the “thinnest LCD touch panel ever in a laptop”, and a very impressive 14.5 hour battery life. The standby power consumption was described as effectively zero, which suggests that a suspend state of some kind is standard to prevent drain when not in use. rather than a low-power sleep.

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Image via Thurrott.com

Microsoft stated that two versions (Intel Core i5 and Core i7) will be available for pre-order beginning today, with the Core i5 model starting at $999. (Pricing on the Core i7 version was not mentioned.)

Windows Central has posted specs for the new machines, reproduced below:

  • Display: 13.5-inch Pixel Sense display, 10 point multi-touch
  • Display Resolution: 2256 x 1504, at 201 ppi, Aspect Ratio: 3:2
  • Software: Windows 10 S
  • Processor: 7th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7
  • Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB Solid State Drive (SSD)
  • Memory: 4GB, 8GB or 16GB RAM
  • Graphics: i5: Intel HD graphics 620, i7: Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640
  • Front Camera: 720p, Windows Hello face authentication
  • Speakers: Omnisonic Speakers with Dolby Audio Premium
  • Ports: One full-size USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, Headset jack, Surface Connect
  • Sensors: Ambient light sensor
  • Security: TPM chip for enterprise security
  • Battery Life: 14.5 hours of use
  • Pen: Surface Pen
  • Weight: 2.76 lbs
  • Dimensions: 12.13 inches x 8.78 inches x 0.57 inches

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Image via Thurrott.com

I will briefly editorialize here to mention the Windows 10 S problem here. That limitation might make sense for education, if Microsoft is providing a suite of apps that make sense for a school, but consumers will undoubtedly want more flexibility from their own devices. This is less consumer-friendly than even the Starter Edition of Windows from the past, which limited the number of running applications but not their provenance.

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft Announces Windows 10 S for Education

Subject: General Tech | May 2, 2017 - 10:16 AM |
Tagged: Windows 10 S, windows 10, windows, OS, operating system, microsoft, Education

Microsoft has introduced a new version of Windows 10 today during their education event, with low-cost education-specific laptops (starting at $189) to feature Windows 10 S, a lightweight edition of the OS for education.

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During the presentation it was revealed that the only way to install applications that are not found within the Windows store on Windows 10 S would be to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. The installation and configuration saves to a USB key that saves the state of the student’s laptop, so that any laptop in the school can be used by the student after inserting their USB key, which reconfigures the OS to the last state used with that key.

Microsoft demonstrated the speed of their streamlined version of the OS with a first boot, which took around 10 seconds on a new machine due to the stripped-down features and limited pre-installed applications. Windows 10 S will be available free to all schools on their current "genuine Window Pro PCs", and free subscriptions to Microsoft Office 365 and Minecraft: Education Edition were also announced.

Windows 10 S will arrive this summer, and while a future on low-cost consumer devices for a Windows Store-only version of the OS seems likely, Windows 10 S seems geared specifically for the education sector for now.

Source: Microsoft

Slow down there pardner, maybe wait for Microsoft to push out the Creators Edition

Subject: General Tech | April 27, 2017 - 02:11 PM |
Tagged: creators update, microsoft, windows 10

It is a lesson which is learned anew by every wave of new adopters, installing something brand new can lead to unexpected problems.  In this particular case it is the Windows 10 Creators Update, some of those who have manually updated are now in a Vista-like driver conundrum.  There is a method behind Microsoft's madness, they are pushing out the updates to systems they have vetted first and slowly expanding their scope as issues come to light and are resolved, more or less.  If you are doing a fresh install you may end up with several devices which are not functioning properly, if you are manually updating you may find yourself without a working machine.  Patience can be a virtue, especially when it comes to Windows 10.  The Inquirer has some rather pointed commentary here.

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"IF YOU'RE as excited as Microsoft are about the Creators Update to Windows 10, we've got some bad news. The company is warning people not to jump the gun and install it themselves, despite having made the disc image available to download."

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Source: The Inquirer

Microsoft Plans to Throttle Background Processes

Subject: General Tech | April 23, 2017 - 08:02 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10

Pre-release builds of the next major update to Windows 10, planned for the September time frame, give or take, introduce a new power management feature. Starting with Intel’s sixth-generation Core processors, with support for other vendors planned in the coming months, Windows 10 will be able to prevent background apps from forcing high-power states. This will keep the CPU at a voltage and frequency that gets more work done per watt, even if it takes a little longer, which should result in longer battery life.

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There will be (and currently is) an override available for end-users, as well as an API for developers to suggest which processes can be throttled, and under what circumstances. This entire feature will also be disabled when the device is plugged in. I wonder if we’ll see that characteristic change a little in Windows Server, though, since it might be useful for data centers to throttle some maintenance tasks to cut down on the power and cooling bills for their many, many machines. Currently, it’s designed for battery life.

You can play around with this feature in the new Insider build, but, again, not while plugged in.

Source: Microsoft

Windows 10 Cloud ("S"?) Performance Targets Leaked

Subject: General Tech | April 22, 2017 - 12:49 PM |
Tagged: windows 10 cloud, windows 10, uwp, microsoft

The upcoming version of Windows that can only install applications from the Windows Store, Windows 10 Cloud, will be Microsoft’s latest attempt at locked-down devices, like Windows RT was back in the Windows 8.x days. The goal is to take on the Chromebook market, which is similarly locked down to Google Chrome and Google Play Store apps (although Google allows developer sideloading). To be fair to Windows 10 Cloud, it can be upgraded to Home or Pro to run Win32 applications for a fee, although that somewhat flies in the face of “streamlined, simpler experience” if you acknowledge a monetary value in unlocking the features you claim those users theoretically don’t want.

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Image Credit: Windows Central

Preamble and opinion aside, it would seem that Microsoft is hoping to push OEMs into making decent devices. They are recommending a minimum specification of quad-core Celeron, 4GB of RAM, >40 Wh battery, and “fast eMMC or SSD” storage. This last note about “fast” eMMC amuses me, because it not-so-subtly telegraphs that cheap laptops, despite having technically solid state memory, don’t have a noticeably better experience than typical hard drives.

Microsoft is expected to discuss the initiative on May 2nd at their #MicrosoftEDU event.

Windows 10 Releases Target ~September and ~March

Subject: General Tech | April 21, 2017 - 07:30 AM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft

Now that Microsoft has pushed their third major version of Windows 10, the Creators Update, the company has decided to settle on a six-month rotation. This is similar to how the Ubuntu distribution of Linux pushes updates, although Windows 10 will be targeting September and March rather than Ubuntu’s October and April (and Ubuntu has a different long-term support model, as we’ll discuss below). More importantly, it’s designed to occur at the same time as Office 365 ProPlus updates, so IT departments can certify and roll out both at the same time.

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The previous release cycle was a little… chaotic. The November Update occurred about three and a half months after the initial release, followed almost nine months later by the Anniversary Update. Seven months after that, the Creators Update landed, which brings us to today.

Each version will be supported for eighteen months.

Source: Microsoft

Cloudy with Microsoft; the new Chrome OS competitor?

Subject: General Tech | April 13, 2017 - 12:33 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, surface 3, Project Scorpio, windows 10 cloud

From what The Inquirer has been able to find out, the Microsoft event taking place next month will not herald the release of the Surface Book 2, Surface Pro 5 nor the Surface Phone. 
It is quite likely we will see a new low cost Surface 3 device announced as well as more information on Project Scorpio.  This should also offer the first details on the new OS that Microsoft has been working on to challenge ChromeOS in low cost devices.  Windows 10 Cloud, also known as Bespin, will be a low cost OS which runs Windows Universal apps and will be aimed at students and those who want small inexpensive devices for light computing usage.  Check out more details here.

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"Microsoft sent out cryptic invites on Wednesday (we're still waiting for ours) which suggests there will be an education focus at the event, with the invite sporting 'Learn what's next' caption and '#MicrosoftEdu' hashtag."

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Source: The Inquirer

Windows 10 obsessive net nanny edition

Subject: General Tech | April 7, 2017 - 01:53 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft, creators update, stalking

The discussion surrounding the telemetry and data of users of Windows 10 which is collected by Microsoft has been energetic and not without a certain amount of vitriol.  Until this past week, much of it has been based on educated guesses and traffic analysis, with Microsoft deigning to provided specifics.  That has changed with the upcoming release of the Creators Update and Microsoft have finally released the details of what data they collect in both the new Basic and Full modes. 

The list is impressive.

The new Basic mode is the same as the previous Full mode, collecting hardware and software information and how they are used, driver usage data, inking and typing data and allowing remote access of your machine and documents without your knowledge.  While this will certainly help with troubleshooting Windows issues it does seem a bit much to collect without users approval.

The new Full mode is even more like an overly attentive software company, it includes all of the above plus it collects your user settings and preferences, installed browsers and the use thereof, an inventory of attached peripherals and how long you use them, a list of every application you've ever installed and a long list of other data which the Register lists here.

Windows 10 Enterprise and some of the Windows Server 2016 editions offer a bit more control which is good, considering many companies sign agreements with clients to the effect that none of their data will be shared with third parties.  That is something Microsoft seems to have trouble comprehending as they continue to pressure businesses to update their infrastructure.

All of this data does help Microsoft collect errors and develop effective fixes but one questions the necessity of the sheer amount of extraneous data collected at the same time.  Perhaps some of the more paranoid claims made by people on the internet were not all that far off base after all. 

If Microsoft does not offer ways to disable at least some of these features, let us hope that security companies find ways to block them; every single one is a vulnerability which could be exploited by people other than Microsoft.

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"Right now, it's doing a little damage control, and preempting complaints about privacy, by listing the types of information its operating system will automatically and silently leak from PCs, slabs, and laptops back to Redmond."

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Source: The Register

Windows 10 Creators Update Opt-in and ISOs Now Available

Subject: General Tech | April 5, 2017 - 10:23 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft

A few days ago, we mentioned that early adopters of the Windows 10 Creators Update can access the new build early by running an opt-in tool from Microsoft. At the time, it was unclear whether users couple perform a clean install without downloading the Insider build, which would also require enrolling in the Insider program.

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As it turns out, Microsoft, today, has updated their Media Creation tool to produce media for the Creators Update. I haven’t yet installed it, because performing a clean installation on your only PC takes a fairly clear schedule, but I’ll probably give my first impressions on this post tonight or tomorrow. I have already opened the ISO, though, and a lot of the files are dated March 18th, so I'm confident in the reports that this has been updated to Creators Update.

Again, I would recommend that the vast majority of users wait until at least April 11th, if not longer, to give Microsoft extra time for tuning the new build. The first couple of months of a new build have, thus far, involved frequent updates and some compatibility issues. Microsoft is confident with enthusiasts grabbing the bits tonight, so go ahead if you like, but it might be a little bumpy for weeks and/or months.

Source: Microsoft