Posts Tagged Windows
So goodbye Windows XP. You know, I’m actually sad. Since it came out in 2001 I’ve grown from being indifferent (“Windows 2000 in a dress”), through slightly awed (when Tablet PC edition introduced handwriting recognition that actually worked), to comfortable and complacent. For a long time there, XP was just the way things were, an everyday ubiquitous tool. After using it for over ten years there was very little about it I couldn’t mend, maintain, or make better. And now Microsoft have declared those skills redundant.
You can see their argument: They haven’t made anything out of XP for years now. Well yes but…
The thing is, there’s a big secret about IT. In the terms I’ll be using in the exam I should be studying for right now, information technology cannot provide a strategic advantage (Carr, Harvard Business Review 2003).
In lay terms: IT is for suckers.
When it all began, people thought that computerising a business would mean radically improved efficiency and so lead to greater profits. That seems to make sense, yet somehow it never did. You do increase efficiency, sure. But that almost never translates into more money. This is because very quickly everybody was able to invest in the same technology, levelling the playing field again.
Only now to keep up with your competitors you have to keep on investing in your system, on a hamster wheel of hardware and software upgrades. That was never such a problem with filing cabinets. So bizarrely the technology may actually cost you more than you’ll ever save through improved efficiency - but you need it now just to stay in business. Nobody makes money directly from IT except the people who sell you the IT; Microsoft in particular have made billions and billions and billions and billions.
So I think they kind of owe us one.
It’s not that I don’t want to upgrade. I have a Windows 7 computer too and I quite like it. It seems fussy compared to XP, but it has some good points. I actually like a lot about Windows 8, despite its cool reception. Though Microsoft seem to have lost all sense of direction, their stuff has never looked better.
No, upgrading is just out of the question. Between my own devices and ones I administer for my family I am looking after four XP computers. At over €100 each, that’s far more money than I am either able or willing to give to Microsoft just now. And even if these computers can run Windows 7 or 8, they will not run it well. So I’d be paying them money to convert PCs that are fine into ones that are annoying.
Is there another way? Well yes. In a word: Linux. Two, possibly three of these computers will become Linux boxes now. High time too. But that is not for everyone, and I will want at least one of them to be able to run non-Linux applications like Photoshop. Can that be done?
I’m going to see, I guess… While continuing to use an unsupported operating system is not a course of action I’d recommend to anyone who doesn’t want to get their computer invaded, held to ransom by criminal gangs and used as a spam-vomiting zombie, how would you go about it?
Well there’s one safe way…
Don’t go online. It sounds a bit crazy now I know, but some of us still remember how computers were actually quite useful even before the Internet. If there’s a job you need to do that doesn’t actually require a live data stream it is perfectly feasible to disconnect. Your XP computer will be perfectly secure – forever!
(Well, you’ll still have the problem of moving your files onto and off it without getting it infected the old fashioned way.)
But if you really have to go online – say, you have no other computer – there’s…
PLAN B [>>>Not Recommended!<<<]
1. Stop being an administrator. Ridiculously, every account on an XP computer is an administrator by default. That means you can do pretty much what you like to the system. Unfortunately it also means that if you catch a virus while logged in as administrator, it can do pretty much what it likes too. It is far, far more secure to use a Limited Account. You may have to log in as admin to install software or other such tasks at times, but the security will be worth it. And if this is a family member’s computer that you mind for them, there’s a good chance that they won’t see any difference. Simply go to the User Accounts section of Control Panel and change the account type.
Unfortunately though there is some software that doesn’t like running without complete privileges, Adobe Photoshop being a particularly egregious example. If – like me – you need to work in Photoshop and then email the results, seriously consider logging out of your admin account and into a limited one before you go online. Ridiculous I know – Adobe and Microsoft really need to share the blame for that one – but far safer.
2. Tool up. When XP support goes, updates for Microsoft Security Essentials go with it. So if this is all you have in the way of antivirus you’ll need to upgrade. Currently I’m testing the different free options that are out there, and I’m really liking Bitdefender. This because it scores almost if not as well as the best available when it comes to detecting viruses, but demands very little of your system’s resources. In fact it seems significantly lighter than even Microsoft’s minimalistic solution, despite offering far better protection. Wish I’d used it years ago now…
3. If the OS can’t be updated, at least keep all your application software patched. A great tool to help with this is Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector, which checks the versions of what you have installed against its database of the latest ones, and lets you know when there’s an update you need. Sometimes it can even do the updating for you.
Apart from that, the usual rules still apply - just more so. Never use Internet Explorer (the version XP has is hopeless outdated now anyway), use Firefox or Chrome or… anything else. Make sure the device you use to connect to the Internet has some level of inbuilt protection like an NAT firewall. Only connect to known secure networks, not random Wi-Fi signals. Avoid visiting criminal corners of the Internet. Don’t install anything, ever, unless you’re absolute sure it’s safe. Be careful out there.
When I told you about MyPhoneExplorer, the software that does for free what Samsung and other Android phone makers seem incapable of doing for money, I mentioned that there were helpful, comprehensive instructions. I did not, however, tell you where to find them… Here they are. There’s also a forum where you can ask any questions you might have. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s in German, it’s an easy language to pick up.
Oh OK, the English section is here.
What follows are a few things I discovered for myself that may help you set it up right. It’s worth noting first that there are two parts to the software – a desktop application for Windows, and a phone app available from Google Play. Don’t bother downloading the latter though. On first using the desktop version, go the the Settings dialogue in the File menu and tell it that your phone is an Android and that you connect by USB (or set it to Autodetect the connection). Then when you plug the phone in it will install the Android app itself.
All I wanted to do was back up my photos and other files, without having to remember. Backups that need to be remembered are backups that don’t get done. Not when I’m in charge. MyPhoneExplorer can sync over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but as I often recharge my phone by plugging it into a PC I thought the most dependable way would be to do it automatically whenever the USB cable connects.
For this to happen of course, the program must be running on the computer. So I searched through the menus trying to find the checkbox that would make it launch on startup. And searched, and searched. To save you some considerable time, there isn’t one. You have to do it the old-fashioned way by creating a shortcut in the Startup folder. (Find the MyPhoneExplorer folder in the All Programs menu, click and hold the program icon and drag it to the Startup folder.) You know it’s freeware when the author finds the simple way just too boring.
There are other options for you to play with. Many, many other options. For example, you can choose whether to sync your contacts with Outlook or some other program. Under the menu item “Advanced 2″ you can select the folder where your photos will be copied, so if you’ve already set up Kies to put them in a certain location you may as well use the same one again. Several copies of your pictures on different computers = Good management. Several copies on the same computer = Pointless (but pretty normal).
The crucial settings for syncing though are under the menu item “Multi-Sync” (see picture). A Multi-sync is what it calls a pre-set choice of items to sync all in one go. You can select exactly what you want to be copied, and where to. And while all the usual ones are available – photos, contacts, calendar and so on – the great thing for the power user is that you can create custom file syncs. For example, I copy across podcasts I’ve downloaded to the PC during the day. In the opposite direction, I have it transfer things I drew or wrote on the phone.
The crucial one here though, if you want things to happen all by themselves, is “Start Multi-sync if connection is initiated automatically”. Once that is checked the program should detect when you’ve plugged the phone in and start to sync, making backing your phone up as easy as putting it on charge.
If it doesn’t start, I dunno what you’ve done wrong. Try poking things randomly.
So, you want to have a go on Windows 8? It’s easy enough, but there are a few things you must bear in mind first:
- Only do this if you have a spare computer to try it on, or are familiar with setting up a dual-boot system. If you install it as an upgrade on your working computer there will be no way back afterwards short of completely re-installing your old version of Windows. And all your software. Assuming you can even find all those discs. And remember all those hundreds of settings. Basically it’s a world of pain and you don’t want to go there.
- You’ll need at least a 1GHz processor, 1GB RAM, 16GB of free hard drive space (20GB for the 64-bit version), and a DVD burner.
- You indemnify me for anything that can, and probably will, go wrong. Windows 8 is Not Ready For Prime Time, and the management is not responsible for lost data or computers exploding in sprays of white-hot metal.
OK, You Ready?
(If you’re starting with an empty hard disk, or one you are OK about permanently obliterating, you can skip the first two steps. Otherwise, skip nothin‘.)
- First, back up any important data on the hard drive you’re partitioning. (If you don’t know what partitioning a drive is you are in too deep and should back out now…) If it also has your working Windows installation it would be a very good idea to image the whole drive, then if everything goes horribly wrong you have a good chance of easy recovery. (Macrium Reflect is a free yet reliable way to image drives.)
- In your spare drive space, make as large a partition as you can afford – it must be 16GB at least. It should be a primary as opposed to a logical or extended partition.
- Next, download the Windows 8 Developer Preview, choosing the right version for your hardware. (If you aren’t sure which is the right version then, again, you shouldn’t be trying this.)
- Once downloaded, burn it to a DVD. (If you try to mount and run the ISO image it will only offer you the option to install to your C drive, which you don’t want.) Label the DVD “Deadly Space Virus”. Or, you know, whatever you like.
- Boot from the DVD. (Just possibly, you may need to change your BIOS settings to allow that.) You’ll be offered a nicer-looking version of the usual Windows install dialogue. Go through it, selecting your options with great care.
- Take PARTICULAR care when you are asked which partition to install Windows 8 to. Make sure it’s the one you just created. One error here, and you return Earth to the stone age. Well all right, you destroy your existing Windows install and/or all your data. Which is bad enough.
- Once you pass this point, things go remarkably fast for a Windows installation. When it’s finished, you’ll be greeted with Windows 8. It’s quite pretty. You’re not finished.
- Get online. You may have a problem with this if the Developer Preview doesn’t happen to contain all the right drivers for your hardware, but you will probably find that an Ethernet connection to a router will work. Or if you have a 3G dongle there should be no problem. Once online, get all the Windows 8 updates. (Users of some earlier Windows versions may have trouble finding Windows Update, it’s: Control Panel/All Control Panel Items/Windows Update. These downloads will make Windows 8 look and act a lot more polished.
- Simple! Oh wait, one other thing…
- If your other operating system is XP, you’re going to discover that you can’t boot back into it now. Bummer. This is because Windows 8 introduces a new bootloader that’s not compatible. To get around this, set XP as the default operating system. Go to: Control Panel/All Control Panel Items/System, click “Advanced ” and then “Start Up And Recovery Settings”. Here you can change the default to “Earlier Version of Windows”, after which you’ll be faced with an option screen when you boot. Phew.
So, could this be the answer to iPad and Android? Have at it.
- The TRUTH About Windows 8: These Amazing Apps Will Be The Killer Feature (MSFT) (businessinsider.com)
- Microsoft begins distributing Windows 8 Developer Preview Updates (obieosobalu.wordpress.com)
- How to Dual-Boot Windows 7 and Windows 8 Side By Side [How To] (lifehacker.com)
- Windows 8: Why and Why Not (dirtech.wordpress.com)
- Windows 8 – First Impression (i.doubt.it)
A new malware variant is doing the rounds. Calling itself “Apple Security Center”, it tells you your Mac is infected. It isn’t infected. But as a counter showing the number of viruses “found” rapidly rises, it will offer to clean your computer. Don’t agree to let it!
Oh, you did. Damn. Well now you are infected.
It’s like inviting a vampire in. Modern computers are designed so that software can’t just install itself, it needs interaction from the user. So malware (that is, evil software) can’t do any harm until you give it permission. Now Mac and Linux are more common, and Windows is a great deal tougher than it used to be, malware is increasingly forced to focus on the one major remaining weakness of all computer systems. This is what techies like to call the PBCAK – the Problem Between Chair And Keyboard. In other words, you. Sometimes called scareware, things like “Apple Security Center” attempt to mindgame you into infecting your own computer.
Stop and think. It’s a Mac, it is quite to very unlikely that it has a virus. And anyway, who the heck is in any position to know what’s on your computer? If you did not install an antivirus program – and even now you really don’t need to – then you will not get virus warnings. Not real ones anyway.
Sitting in a late pub, torn between throwing up my hands in despair at those damn computers, and going back and coddling them all like sick hens. They really are depressing. Aside from some of them being basically made of string and spit, they have been the unfortunate victims of good ideas.
Naturally in a net café you want to keep the computers safe from the customers and whatever crap they might download or bring in on their dirty little flash drives. Someone had a scheme here, to totally lock down these computers. Good? Unfortunately, they’re locked to Windows Updates, to new software, to antivirus that can still get updates… You can’t change anything as a user and you can’t log on as an administrator, even in Safe Mode. These computers are frozen in the past.
There are supposed to beimages to restore them from, but so far every one I’ve tried has this anti-change software on it, so they’re just frozen further in the past. It’s like whoever did this job last decided to set a fiendish puzzle to those who came after. Normally I’d relish such a challenge, but this café does need to start making money some time.
Yesterday I speculated that the smartphone market could devolve into a straight fight between Apple and Nokia-Microsoft. This would depend of course on people actually liking what the latter two companies have to offer. If they manage to combine the best of what they can do, the results should be impressive. But will they? Until the first phones come out, which will be October at the very soonest, we can only wait with bated breath. Windows Phone on Nokia has a lot to live up to.
Or perhaps, to live down. At a stroke, this deal effectively eliminated not only the world’s most popular smartphone OS, but also a promising alternative.
There were reasons for this. Symbian, with its pedigree stretching back to the very first handheld computers, was unwieldy when compared to the radical interface-orientation of its new rivals. To take one example, an operation as trivial as creating a screen icon for a newly installed app required digging down through menus within menus to find one called, of all things, “Standby Mode”. That just wasn’t good enough anymore.
To deliver a slick modern experience, Symbian needed to be drastically rebuilt. Nokia dithered about this, working on both an improved form (Symbian^3) and its slated successor (MeeGo) in parallel. And so ended up with one system that was serviceable but unimpressive and another that was impressive but unserviceable. Meanwhile, Apple and Google were eating their market share alive.
But there was another company that knew its smartphone OS needed to be replaced, and it pulled the trick off with surprising alacrity. This of course was Microsoft.
The case for simply adopting the software giant’s solution seems compelling now, but few predicted it. Even when former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop became Nokia’s CEO last September, rumours that he planned to move his old office furniture in with him seemed merely mischievous. Abandoning their own OS development would be a move Nokia could never take back, and so lead to almost irrevocable dependence on a company that had up till then been a bitter rival.
It was only with the recent leak of Elop’s harsh memo that the hints became impossible to ignore. In it he used the metaphor of a “burning platform” – as in, you don’t jump into the cold ocean until you realise your oil rig is on fire – to illustrate just how drastically Nokia needed to change. But the language was hardly even coded; platform in computing terms means the combination of hardware and operating system a program runs on. In fact Nokia had only recently rebranded Symbian as the “Symbian Platform”. The writing was on the wall for an OS that, with its roots in the Psion Organiser of the 80s, is almost a cultural artefact.
But it may be missed by more than just a few sentimental geeks. A mobile OS from the start, Symbian was designed with security and frugal energy demands as priorities, and decades of development have given it considerable depth. Too much perhaps, if you’re trying to find a particular facility within its maze of menus, but there is little you might want a phone to do that isn’t there. And this includes many features that are not yet in Windows Phone 7. Well-loved old ones, like tethering, swapping data cards, full multitasking, compatibility with a vast range of media formats. New ones well in advance of its rivals, like USB On-The-Go which allows you to connect a phone directly to flash drives and hard disks.
Features that may never return if, like the iPhone, it is developed primarily as a system for delivering services and digitally managed content. Unless much happens between now and the first Nokia with Windows, former Symbian users may consider it limited and disappointing. Don’t be surprised if they dub it the No-Win.
Well it looks like my worst fears came true, literally overnight. Maybe insiders at Microsoft and Nokia will be able to convince themselves that this is a refreshing, innovative alliance, but I think most others will see it as a dinosaur wedding. Two giant market leaders getting into bed together – and very likely pushing everyone else out.
It needn’t be. These may not be the most fashionable companies right now, but they each have histories of innovation. If we saw the best of them combined in one smartphone system it could be something to behold. But will we? It is hard to be sanguine. A move like this seems almost the opposite of a brave, independent vision.
I have argued that Apple are actually not a particularly innovative company, but here they did something that was truly game-changing. What Nokia and Microsoft seem to be doing though is not changing the game again, but trying to grab as much as possible of the game as it is. Between them, they reckon they have the hardware and software to go head-to-head with Apple. Well and good from a profit point of view, but it borders on the anti-competitive.
At the moment in the smartphone world we have winning products from Apple, Nokia, Google, Microsoft and RIM (Blackberry), as well as interesting outsiders like HP’s WebOS and various other adaptations of Linux and Java. When was any branch of the computer industry as open as that? Certainly not since the home computer explosion of the 80s; probably not since IBM’s rise to dominance. This is an extraordinary time for choice and innovation. Yes, it has to shake out and consolidate. Leaders must emerge. But when the people who are already the market leaders band together to protect their position, that is disappointing.
Nokia have said that they will continue to work with their own Symbian operating system for now, as well as MeeGo, the promising mobile version of Linux they’ve been working on with Intel and others, but it is hard to seriously imagine them putting their hearts into it when they are in partnership with the maker of a product competing with both. It seems more likely that they will atrophy, and the available choices will shrink. A Nokia-Microsoft product will almost inevitably rise to a dominant position. Not because it is better – Windows Phone 7 is still largely untried – but simply because of economies of scale. Because they are big.
In just a couple of years we may see a smartphone market that consists of little more than two giants – Apple and Nokia-Microsoft – and a plethora of minor competitors using Android. This will be a particular shame because it is so unnecessary. Unlike the desktop computer market there was no real argument for a natural monopoly here. Document compatibility and intercommunication are non-issues. It will just be too hard for smaller companies to get a look-in when giant competitors can work on graphene margins. So competition, and innovation, slowly dies.
And there is little we can do about it. Except of course refuse to buy the phones.