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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Microsoft Releases the Surface Laptop and Windows 10 S

You can file this under the WTF of the Day category…

You can definitely file this one under the WTF category. Sometimes you really have to wonder what the heck a company like Microsoft is doing. I mean, I am totally out in deep, roving, left, right field with this one, knee deep in Lake Winnapasocki… if that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry. You’re in good company. Like the last part of that statement, the whole decision by Microsoft to release the Surface Laptop and Windows 10 S doesn’t make a lot of sense either.

Let me break this down for you. It’s really a very simple thing, despite what you might think.

Windows 10 S
Windows 10 S is Windows 10. It runs on an Intel Core i processor and does everything that Windows 10 Home can do (because it mostly is Windows 10 Home…). The big difference here is that Windows 10 S only runs apps out of the Windows Store. Period.

According to Microsoft, the S in Windows 10 S doesn’t stand for Store. It stands for “security, simplicity and superior performance.” Terry Myerson, the head of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group said that the “S” stands for Soul, or the Soul of Microsoft’s future – a secure Windows platform that will provide users with malware free apps from them as well as third parties at a variety of price points.

In short, Windows 10 S runs apps from the Windows Store. It will also run Win32 apps that are wrapped using Microsoft’s Desktop Bridge, codenamed “Centennial.”

In short, this is Windows RT for Intel Core i processors.

While Microsoft thinks that restricting Windows 10 S to running only apps that come from the Windows Store, because doing so will provide a more reliable, secure and manageable computing experience, there are a couple of key flaws to this:

  1. There Aren’t Enough Apps in the Windows Store
    This has been an issue for Microsoft since the introduction of the Windows Store in October of 2012. As of November of 2014, there were over 500,000 apps in the Store. By September of 2015, that number had increased to approximately 670,000. As of March 2016, that number should have come close to 850,000. By the time of this Writing (May of 2017) that number should be somewhere around 925,000.In contrast, the Mac App Store should have somewhere around 2,2000,000 (two million, two hundred thousand) or approximately 58% more than the Windows Store. You can find this interesting bit of information here.
  2. There are a Number of Different ways to Obtain Windows Software
    Microsoft is trying to change over 35 years of a proven software publishing business model encouraged and supported by the ASP (the Association of Shareware) and software developers all over the world. THAT is going to be an uphill battle. Most software developers and publishers have resisted the Windows Store because, well… they don’t HAVE to use it. They don’t have to subject themselves to the restrictions that Microsoft places on software that’s sold and delivered through it. They have a number of different alternatives and; it’s clear since the introduction of the Windows Store with the Release of Windows 8 and Windows RT, they’d rather NOT subject themselves to those restrictions.
  3. Windows RT was Discontinued
    Microsoft tried this method of software delivery with Windows RT, a version of Windows that ran on ARM. Windows RT failed miserably and was discontinued. Microsoft was really the ONLY software publisher or vendor of note to provide software through the Store under Windows RT; and at the time, that did NOT include MS Office. What makes Microsoft think the concept of restricting users to running software from the Windows Store on an Intel Core i processor is any better of an idea?

Now let us consider the hardware that was intended to run this “new” operating system – the Surface Laptop.

Surface Laptop
The Surface Laptop is light and thin. It has a long lasting, 14.5 hour battery and uses most of the same accessories as its other Surface family PC’s – including the Surface Pen, Surface Dock, and Surface Dial. It also has a keyboard, covered of cloth or fabric, if you will, like other keyboards from Apple.

The base model comes in four different colors – Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, Graphite Gold and Platinum. Its display is a 13.5 inch PixelSense screen made of Gorilla Glass. It has a touch display that has a 2259×1504 resolution, insuring that long exposure to it won’t strain your eyes. Its touch pad supports multi-touch. The keyboard has 1.5mm of travel, and is supposed to be more responsive and more comfortable than the keyboard on Microsoft’s Surface Book, though I have yet to actually put my hands on the device.

The device’s feature set is rounded out with a mini DisplayPort, a USB 3.0 port, a Surface Connect jack for charging and Surface Dock connection, as well as 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth 4.0. The device does not have a USB-C port or Thunderbolt 3 port.

The base configuration of the device which includes an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD starts at $999. The high end Surface Laptop comes with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD and is priced at $2199. High end Surface Laptops only come in Platinum. If you wish to have a gold, cobalt or burgundy colored SL, then you’re going to be limited to a Core i5 with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

Microsoft is targeting the Surface Laptop at the education market and most specifically, they are marketing the product as a Chromebook competitor.

However, they aren’t going to do that well pricing the device at its current price points. To be very honest, the Surface Laptop is a premium priced product. Chromebooks, most of which are priced between $199 and $399, are minimalist based PCs. They have only just enough processor, RAM and storage needed to push and store a few documents and run the web apps needed to edit them. That’s the point of a Chromebook. They run web apps or those apps that are available in the Chrome Store and that’s all. They don’t run any other kind of app and aren’t meant to.

With Windows 10 S, Microsoft is trying to do the same thing with the Surface Laptop. However, it’s difficult to imagine that Microsoft would price that solution starting at $1000 USD. At that price, education accounts likely won’t touch them, even at a bulk discount.

There’s a great deal here to be concerned about.

The whole model is a bit problematic. Microsoft is targeting the education market where Chromebooks are used by students and teachers, along with G-Suite (formerly Google Docs), to get school work done. G-Suite is free for individuals, and Chromebooks are dirt cheap. The way that the Surface Laptop is priced, it’s really priced more in line with Apple’s MacBook or MacBook Air – a premium product.

The problem here is that Apple’s products are premium products with premium prices in a business model. Most of their apps are found in the Mac App Store; but Apple also gives you a way to side load the apps via the traditional method… the same method that Microsoft is now adopting with Windows 10 S and the Surface Laptop.

Actually there are a number of problems here:

  1. The device starts at $1000 when their direct competition is priced 80% less to start.
  2. Apple’s software delivery model – the Mac App Store – contains roughly 60% more titles than the Windows Store, and it’s much more successful. Its accepted and it works. Microsoft’s isn’t proven and isn’t well populated
  3. Microsoft’s target audience, educators and students likely don’t have the means to get into a Surface Laptop and won’t choose one over even a high end Chrome book, simply based on price.
  4. Part of what makes the Surface Laptop desirable are the four cool colors that the device comes in. Unfortunately, they’re only available in the i5, 8GB, 256GB model. All other models only come in Platinum.

Everything that I’ve seen and read so far about Windows 10 S and the Surface Laptop doesn’t lend a lot to its success. I really don’t think either of them are going to do well. I think the Surface Laptop won’t sell as well as either Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book. While users can upgrade Windows 10 S to Windows Pro for $50, according to Microsoft, I don’t think many users are going to seek Windows 10 S out. The last thing I’m going to want to do is pay an additional $50 to upgrade the “cloud” version of Windows.

I actually think that the whole Windows 10 S and Surface Laptop effort are doomed from the start.

What do you think? Is the Surface Laptop something you’re interested in? Will you pay $1000 or more for it? Do you think that Windows 10 S and the Windows Store are something that is going to work out? Let me know what you think in the Discussion area below.

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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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Dok Malware is the Disease that Ailes You

Currently, there is NO cure...

Malware – and specifically ransomware – is probably the most compelling reason I know of to completely abandon personal computing. Depending on where you are, what bug(s) you get, and how badly it affects you, I can totally understand the urge some people must feel to leave the computer age behind. Ransomware, or the type of computer virus that encrypts your hard drive without any way of recovering your data unless and until you cough up a payment or two to a hacker, who is then supposed to send you a key that removes the encryption from your hard drive, allowing you to recover your data, can be especially damaging if you don’t have the data backed up or if your backup(s) also gets infected. Infections like these are especially harmful to small businesses that simply don’t have the cash or resources to remove the infection or pay the ransom.

In order to prevent infections like these, regardless of what operating system or computer type you use, its highly recommended that you use a reputable malware scanner. Like I said… anyone can get malware… (Part 1, Part 2). Problems start when the malware scanner you’re using can’t detect the latest, greatest bug to be declared in the wild – case in point: Dok is the latest critter to move into the macOS space, and it targets ALL versions of OS X and macOS; and will take complete control of your Mac if you let it.

Before we go any further, there is a silver lining to this massive, malware cloud of doom – it’s a phishing attack that requires the user to open a ZIP archive that’s attached to an email message. This should be a warning sign to just about everyone – opening ZIP attachments in an email is likely NOT a good idea, regardless of where they’re coming from or who is sending them.

So, what exactly is phishing? According to Wikipedia, phishing is

“the attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and, indirectly, money), often for malicious reasons, by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. [Phishing] is a neologism created as a homophone of fishing due to the similarity of using bait in an attempt to catch a victim.”

Most phishing attempts usually occur via email or instant messaging (so you have to be careful with IM apps as well…) and the “attack” occurs when you open a specific attachment or open an active web page that executes code that directs you to enter personal information on to a page that looks and feels like the real thing. Phishing messages are often sent by imitations of auction sites, credit card and bank sites, online payment processing sites, or from an “IT administrator” from any of those places. The idea is to fool you into thinking that the website or service you’re using/ viewing is legitimate so the hacker can install or execute some other program that will steal financial or other information from you that will provide them with financial gain.

The best and worst thing about phishing attacks is that most users can prevent them by not clicking on suspicious links or opening dubious email attachments sent from people or places you don’t know or recognize or aren’t expecting to receive messages from.

According to Check Point Software, a leading antimalware software publisher, Dok isn’t detectable by any malware scanner from any vendor as of this writing. While this is likely to change quickly, it still represents a huge problem. Dok uses a signed developer certificate. This means that your Mac will allow it to install despite having Gatekeeper active. That signed developer cert is authenticated by Apple, and because of THAT, if you open a ZIP file on your Mac, you could be risking infection.

Once Dok is installed on your Mac, the malware has elevated privileges that will provide access to all communication methods, even those sent over SSL connections, by redirecting all of your traffic through a malicious proxy server. All of your traffic will be monitored, and the person(s) monitoring that data can look through the details, saving what they want. This information could include access to the financial and other PMI based accounts you opened while infected.

The best way to keep yourself infection free at this point is to stay uninfected. In other words, don’t open any ZIP files from anyone. Period. Just delete the email. If you think the sender is a trusted party, email them back and make other arrangements to retrieve the attachments. Services like Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive all have ways to send secure links to files you want to share with others. Look into those.
Additional information on Dok can be found at Check Point’s Advisories archive. If you’re running Check Point Antivirus R75 – R77, you can prevent unauthorized remote access by following these instructions. If you suspect you already have Dok, you need to take a look at this article by Lory Gil over at iMore. All the folks there are awesome; and this article is especially helpful.

As I mentioned earlier, the best way to keep yourself infection free is to not open attachments in email, especially attachments from someone you don’t know; or if you get unexpected attachments from someone you do know.

In the case of the latter, a quick phone call or text message asking if they did send you something can save you a huge headache. Err on the side of caution, kids. It’s better to be safe than sorry…

You should also make certain you’re running a good antimalware app. If you’re running macOS, you can find one here. If you’re running a Windows machine, you can find one here.

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Windows Essentials are Dead – Part 2

Formerly called Windows Live Essentials, this great group of MS created and maintained apps died on 2017-01-10.

Introduction
As I mentioned last time, Microsoft has recently discontinued the download and support of a set of add-on apps that were formally part of its “essentials” brand, as these add-on apps were considered an “essential” part of the Windows Live experience; and while they were supported, life on the Windows side of the fence was pretty good.

Unfortunately, Microsoft killed these applications as of 2017-01-10, meaning that new installations of Windows Live Essentials are no longer possible through its web based installation program. While the installation app is available through Microsoft and via any number of download sites, any attempt to actually run the install app is met with a download error. Here is the official statement from Microsoft:

As of January 10, 2017, Windows Essentials 2012 is no longer supported on Windows 10, and is unavailable for download. Windows Essentials 2012 included Windows Movie Maker, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Live Writer, Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Family Safety and the OneDrive desktop app for Windows.

Last time, I covered almost all of Windows Essentials; and they included the following applications

  • Photo Gallery
  • Movie Maker
  • Mail
  • Windows Messenger
  • Windows Live Writer
  • OneDrive – Formerly both Windows Live Mesh and SkyDrive
  • Family Safety – Windows 7 only

While there are apps included with Windows 10 meant to replace Photo Gallery and Mail, there aren’t replacements for Movie Maker or Family Safety (the latter was meant for Windows 7, only). Windows Messenger was replaced with Skype when Microsoft purchased it; and OneDrive took on a life of its own. It’s now available as part of Windows 10 and includes 5GB of free storage. Additional storage can be purchased as part of Office 365. Users can also purchase up to 50GB of storage for $0.99 (99 cents) USD, per month.

Windows Live Writer
Most users of Windows Live Writer have a few poignant things to say about it. Thankfully, most of them are positive. In contrast, while Microsoft Word can be used to create and edit HTML files, most people that need a “real” HTML editor will tell you – actually they’ll plead with you –choose a different editor. Word inserts a lot of unnecessary – as well as other – tags in the HTML it creates, and HTML edited with it, is considered dirty and “expensive” (meaning that it requires more processing power to crunch through the unnecessary HTML tags than cleaner HTML written in a different editor). Most websites won’t use documents or articles written in Word HTML. A number of years ago, I had more than one publication turn down or reject HTML written with Word. Having a tool like Live Writer to compose and post articles directly to one or more online publications is the closest thing you’re going to have to an offline CMS for the masses.

Windows Live Writer first came out to support Windows Live Spaces. Live Spaces were Microsoft’s answer to GeoCities. GeoCities was Microsoft’s answer to Yahoo’s mass attempt at getting the world to claim their slice of the digital frontier, if you will. GeoCities was a place where just about anyone could create a website and create some kind of presence on the web. It was also an attempt at competing with additional properties like MySpace and Xanga. The big difference with Microsoft’s solution is that they provided a tool in Live writer that had a familiar WYSIWYG interface, like the one found in Word.

Live Writer made it very easy to post to Live Space. Thankfully, the app also worked with other popular blogging platforms, including WordPress, SharePoint, Blogger and TypePad, among others, meaning you can write and automatically post to sites built on these supported platforms. You can also use WLW to create HTML that may be used by other CMS’ (Content Management Systems).

Unfortunately, Windows Live Writer died with the rest of the Windows Essentials on 2017-01-10.

Open Live Writer

Thankfully, prior to its death, Microsoft decided to release the application to the open source community. Windows Live Writer was replaced with Open Live Writer; and strangely enough, the open sourced version of WLW, is completely identical to the Microsoft branded app.

Interestingly enough, the new version of the app supports the same blogging services. The only difference with OLW is that you already have to have the blog started somewhere (meaning, it has to have a URL and the ability to post articles prior to you writing one).

I’ve been using the app for just a little bit now, and quite honestly, I’m pleased and VERY relieved. When I picked up a Surface Book earlier this year, I wanted to install Windows Live Essentials on it. Unfortunately, it was after 2017-01-10, and as I mentioned previously, attempts to install after that date will be met with installation/ download errors (even though you can still download the installation program. Searching for “windows live essentials download” on your search engine of choice should bring up a number of different download links from reputable download sites all OVER the internet. Thankfully (and rightfully so), Soft32 doesn’t have it in its download catalog.

Conclusion
As an HTML editor and web article creation tool, Open Live Writer is just as effective and good at its job as Windows Live Writer was. To be very honest, those that depend on or prefer this tool to others have a great deal to be thankful for. Open Live Writer satisfies the need for a posting tool for just about any and every website out there, plus it creates some of the cleanest HTML, the same as any of the bigger, paid tools on the market.

Windows Essentials had some of the best Microsoft applets ever created. They covered a great deal of holes in the OS. With the advance of Windows to more sophisticated versions, Microsoft has finally retired the suite.

Its components may have been replaced, but can still be used, provided you already have them installed. After 2017-01-10, they can no longer be installed on any computer, regardless of operating system.

Some of their replacements can be installed and/ or used at your convenience; and if you’re curious, or interested, they’re a good move and good choice of applet to address the needs they fulfill.

Are you currently using Windows Essentials? Which version of Windows are using them on? What is it that you find most valuable about them? Are there better apps out there, in your opinion?

If there are, I need you to tell me all about it. Meet me in the Discussion area, below, and give me all the information you have. I’d love to hear it.

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Windows Essentials are Dead

Formerly called Windows Live Essentials, this great group of MS created and maintained apps died on 2017-01-10.

Introduction
Back in the day, Microsoft put out some decent add-on software. This add-on software took on a life of its own and was given an “Essentials” brand as these add-on apps were considered an “essential” part of the Windows Live experience. And while they were supported, life on the Windows side of the fence was pretty, darn-tootin’ good.

Microsoft eventually divided their essentials into two different parts – Live Essentials and Security Essentials. Eventually, both Live Essentials and Security Essentials provided users with important functionality enhancements for applications that were missing in Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. Windows Essentials did not run in Windows 8. So, there was motivation to either stay on Windows 7 or move to Windows 8.1, IF you wanted to keep Windows Essentials running.

Unfortunately, Microsoft killed these applications as of 2017-01-10, meaning that new installations of Windows Live Essentials are no longer possible. Windows Security Essentials never ran on Windows 10 (as it was replaced by Windows Defender). Here is the official statement from Microsoft:

As of January 10, 2017, Windows Essentials 2012 is no longer supported on Windows 10, and is unavailable for download. Windows Essentials 2012 included Windows Movie Maker, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Live Writer, Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Family Safety and the OneDrive desktop app for Windows.

Windows Essentials included the following applications

  • Photo Gallery
  • Movie Maker
  • Mail
  • Windows Messenger
  • Windows Live Writer
  • OneDrive – Formerly both Windows Live Mesh and SkyDrive
  • Family Safety – Windows 7 only

Windows Security Essentials morphed into what is now Windows Defender; but was, at its zenith, one of the best free anti-malware programs available for Windows; and in truth, though part of the Windows Essentials family of apps, it was a completely separate deal. Security Essentials has taken a back seat to Windows Defender in Windows 8.x and Windows 10; but it’s still available for Windows Vista (even though Microsoft discontinued support for it) and Windows 7. Its last update was 2016-11-29.

Microsoft Movie Maker
Unfortunately, Microsoft has no replacement for Windows Movie Maker. If you have installed, good on you. You’re a big step ahead of the rest of the Windows crowd who need an app like Movie Maker, but can no longer get one from Microsoft, and certainly can’t get something of that high quality, for free. (If someone does know of something that is on the same level or better than Microsoft Movie Maker and runs for free without having to ever pay or buy a registration code for it, I’d love to hear from you in the discussion area, below.)

Microsoft OneDrive
Microsoft OneDrive is perhaps the most successful Windows Live Essential app out there. It’s got what I would consider to be the best post Essentials success. Microsoft OneDrive is now part of Office 365 or you can get a OneDrive storage plan on its own, if you wish. Microsoft OneDrive offers 5GB of online storage to anyone who signs up for OneDrive, for free.
When you sign up for Office 365, you get 1TB (terabyte) of space, which should be more than enough space to store just about anything and everything you would want to store, including your photo and home video library.

If you don’t want need Office 365, you can get 50GB of storage for $1.99 USD per month, which should get you started and will store a decent amount of data for you. By comparison, Apple’s iCloud storage prices are a bit better. Apple offers 50GB of iCloud storage for $0.99 (99 cents) USD per month, or half of the cost of OneDrive’s exact same offer.

The bulk of the remaining apps – those I’ve noted above, with some exceptions that I’m going to dive into – made an appearance as what is now being called a UWP (Universal Windows Platform) app. Photo Gallery and Mail are all available as native apps under Windows 10. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a Microsoft replacement for Windows Live Movie Maker.

Windows Messenger was discontinued in favor of Skype, after it was purchased by Microsoft, and while there’s still a way to communicate via IM, it’s not with the client that was originally part of Live Essentials. So… Enter Skype, exit Messenger.

Windows Photo Gallery
I don’t have a lot to say here. Though I am a HUGE photography nut, I was never really into Windows based photo apps or solutions. To be honest, photography is literally 25% of why I got into Macs in the first place. Others may have more to say on Windows Photo Gallery or Windows Photos. If you do, please use the comments area below and give me your thoughts on either of these applets.

Windows Photo Gallery was replaced with Windows Photos, and it’s now a UWP (Universal Windows Platform) app. You’ll have most, if not all, of the same functionality in Photos as you did in Photo Gallery, and as you can see from the screen shot, above, it’s a huge improvement and very user friendly.

Windows Mail

Outlook Express first made an appearance as part of Internet Explorer with the release of IE 3.0. Its last formal, big release was with the release of IE 6.0 and Windows XP in 2001. IE 7 initially included a beta release of Outlook Express 7, but it was eventually replaced with Windows Mail and Windows Live Mail. There were other shareware email clients available at the time when Microsoft released Vista and IE 7.0, but these really weren’t the same; and honestly, most of them required some kind of registration fee to be paid in order to keep using them.

Again, Outlook Express was good. It did basic IMAP and POP3 mail, and when Microsoft discontinued it, it was a huge problem Outlook Express was tied to Internet Explorer, and since Microsoft tied IE to the kernel of the OS, every time IE or Windows changed, so did OE; and when it was discontinued, it wasn’t like you could upgrade the OS and NOT upgrade IE. So unfortunately, when IE killed OE, you couldn’t keep one and upgrade the other… which totally sucked.

So, Windows Live Mail was a response to the absence of Outlook Express. It worked OK, but the Windows Mail in Windows 8 was nothing more than a Metro app (what would eventually become a UWP app) and it used a tablet metaphor for its UI, and honestly, it kinda sucked. Remember, Windows Live Essentials didn’t run under Windows 8, they ran under Windows 7., 8.1, and Windows 10.

There’s only one Live Essentials app left to cover, and that’s Windows Live Writer. Come back next time, as I plan to dive into it, pretty deeply.

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Windows 10 Creator’s Update New Features

The rollout begins 2017-04-17… Get ready!

Introduction
The latest version of Windows, the Creators Update, was released to the public on 2017-04-11. Officially, its Microsoft has listed it as Windows 10 Build 15063.138 KB4015583. While that link points to a cumulative update that provides fixes to updated time zone information and security updates to a number of core OS components including Hyper-V, Kernel Mode Drivers, IE, Edge, Windows OLE and Active Directory Federation Services, the larger update is a whole new version of Windows 10.

Microsoft has indicated that it’s going to be rolling the Creators Update out over the following months. However, it is possible to download it immediately. Neowin has a great article with instructions for getting it now, instead of waiting for it to manually show up in Windows Update. If you have to have the bits now, use the Neowin link to (eventually) get to the easy to follow instructions.

So, given that its available now, what does the Creator’s Update include? Well, you’ve come to the right place. The Creators Update contains the following Windows goodness…

Privacy Controls
The Windows 10 Creators Update contains enhanced privacy controls. On a new Windows 10 install or an upgraded PC, you’re going to be prompted to review the privacy configuration on your PC. What you’ll see is a bit of an explanation of what Microsoft is collecting and can determine if it’s something you want to share with them or not. While this is required for Windows as a Service – or WaaS – Microsoft is wise to clearly state what they’re collecting and why.

Security Updates
Along with all of the privacy stuff, you also get improved, general security features. Windows now contains an updated version of Defender, called the Defender Security Center. This new applet works much like the older Security Center/ Action Center did in previous versions of Windows, but it provides this information in a centralized dashboard view. You also get a new Refresh Windows Tool that’s now called Fresh Start. Thankfully, you should be able to perform a clean installation of Windows with it, without any and all bloatware that came with the OEM version of Windows that came on your OEM hardware.

Update Controls
You get better control over Windows Update in the Creators Update. While this still isn’t crystal clear, Windows 10 Professional and above users can now very easily pause updates in Settings. Windows 10 Home users are still held to Microsoft’s update schedule, so if you’re a consumer… you’re kinda outta luck here.

Deeper Cortana integration
Microsoft’s personal, digital assistant is a bit more personal and a bit more digital in the Creators Update. Cortana’s moved a bit closer to the center of what you’re doing and while you may not want all of your personal information shared with her, she’s still going to be a bit closer to it, here, than she was before.

Microsoft Edge Improvements
Not that a lot of people care, but Microsoft’s done its best to improve the browser that no one wants to use… Edge now has an eBook store and an eBook reader built into Edge. You also get a better way to manage browser tabs, too, as well as a bunch of other stuff (that, as I said, no one is really gonna care about…)

Gaming Improvements
Gamers rejoice! You’ll want to get the Creators update as soon as you can. This new version of Windows 1- brings a Game Mode feature to Windows that will help you optimize your PC for games, and provides Beam broadcasting integration

Windows Applet Updates
While not specifically tied to the Creators Update, applets that come with Windows like Mail, Calendar, Groove, Movies & TV, maps, Paint, etc. have and should continue to improve and be updated more regularly going forward. Yes, the Universal Windows Platform version of these things isn’t all that great, but it’s going to help get and keep them current.

Conclusion
I am not going to review the Creators Update. There’s really no need to. Every Windows 10 user is going to get it at some point, anyway. You aren’t going to be able to opt out or delay/ postpone it indefinitely. Period.

However, if you can, you might want to wait a bit before taking the dive and updating. There’s going to be some level of issue fall out related to this and the best thing you can do is to wait until an update to the update comes out, so that you don’t get hit with the “slings and arrows of outrageous” update bugs.

Let the early adopters take the hit and deal with the problems.

While most of the issues are likely worked out already – and Microsoft Surface Pro and Surface Book, as well as other Signature PC users, are likely ok to update now – if you don’t want to chance it, you can wait until the update gets to your PC and then don’t restart for a bit, or if you can, defer the update to a later date.

However, there’s not too much to be concerned about here. The Creators Update has been tested internally (at Microsoft) tested in the Windows Insider Fast Right, Windows Insider Slow Ring and Windows Insider Release Candidate Ring. You’re pretty safe here.

Ultimately, this is your choice; but either one – go now or defer as long as you can – are good choices.

The Windows 10 Creators Update will begin rolling out starting on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. I will do my best to keep my ear to the ground and will let everyone know how things go.

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Classic Shell

Get enhanced functionality in Windows Explorer with this handy utility

classic shellOver the past few iterations of Windows, the UI has changed a great deal, between Window XP, Windows 7, Windows 8.x and Windows 10, there’s been only some very basic consistency in the user interface. Depending on where you work, the industry you work in and the size of your company, you may or may not have had to deal with any of those changes. Let’s face it, many IT departments simply lock you into a version of Windows and run THAT until it can’t any longer.

When changes come to the way Windows operates, looks and feels, user productivity can tank. In those cases, users spend more time trying to figure out HOW to do something than actually doing the task at hand. It’s at times like those that I really appreciate tools like Classic Shell. It’s a UI – or shell – modification tool for Windows, and it works with Windows 7, 8.x and Windows 10.

Classic Shell is freeware that improves your productivity, enhances the usability of Windows and empowers you to use the computer the way you like it. With it you can customize the Start Menu with multiple styles and skins; get quick access to recent, frequently-used, or pinned programs; as well as find programs, settings, files and documents. You can also customize the Start button in Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.

You can also customize Windows Explorer (formerly File Manager). In Windows Explorer, you can customize both a custom Toolbar and the Status Bar. You also get the ability to customize the Caption and Status bars in IE.

Conclusion: I’ve been using Classic Shell on my work PC for about two and a half years now. It’s an awesome application, and one that I would highly recommend to anyone running a “modern’ version of Windows (anything from Windows 7 forward). The customizations if offers for both the Start Menu and Explorer make both of them a LOT easier to use, especially if you’re using a version of Windows NEWER than Windows 7.

I personally think that the application is worthwhile simply based on the modifications it makes to Windows Explorer. While the application is free, it really adds value. In fact, it adds more value than some paid shell enhancements I’ve played with over the years.

There are a few down sides, however. As of this writing, the app hasn’t been updated in over eight (8) months . Its last update came on 2016-07-30. Currently the app also supports the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, but users of the Creator’s Update may have compatibility issues. If you plan on updating to the Creator’s Update – and all Windows 10 users will – then you should use the Classic Shell Utility to remove the app prior to updating Windows 10. If you don’t, you may have issues with both the app and your PC after the Creator’s Update is installed. I am assuming the utility will be updated to support the Creator’s Update, but I can’t find any information to either confirm or deny that anywhere as of this writing.

download Classic Shell

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