Lotsa cool-techology news today…
By Harry McCracken | Posted at 9:53 am on Monday, May 11, 2009
Lotsa cool-techology news today…
The standard “Express” installation of the Windows 7 RC does something I thought software had stopped doing years ago:
If you upgrade from a previous version of Windows, and choose the “Express” option when installing, your default browser will be changed to Internet Explorer. Needless to say, this behavior has immediately sparked complaints from Mozilla and Opera, and rightfully so, because it’s shady at the very least.
This sounds so cheesy that I wonder if it’s a unwitting gaffe by Microsoft rather than an intentional ploy. Can we all agree that this needs to be changed for the final version of the OS?
Posted by Harry McCracken at 8:48 am7 Comments
By Harry McCracken | Posted at 8:08 am on Thursday, May 7, 2009
I’m moving to southeast England!
By Steve Bass | Posted at 7:20 pm on Wednesday, May 6, 2009
WinPatrol is a free tool you just must have on your Windows PC: It gives you a way to stop unwanted programs from loading (and tells you which apps are safe), watches out for spyware and keyloggers, keeps your System tray uncluttered, and when you boot, can get you to the desktop quickly.
At its core, WinPatrol raises a flag when something suspicious happens within critical parts of your system. For instance, you’ll get an alert when anything is added to any of the Registry’s Startup locations and you’ll have the option of blocking it or disabling it later. WinPatrol watches almost 20 functions, including when a browser plug-in is added, a file type association is changed, a scheduled task is created, your HOST file is touched, or a new ActiveX component is installed.
By Harry McCracken | Posted at 11:03 am on Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Here’s what I’m reading today:
…in Windows NT, 2000, XP and Vista, Explorer used to Hide extensions for known file types. And virus writers used this “feature” to make people mistake executables for stuff such as document files.
The trick was to rename VIRUS.EXE to VIRUS.TXT.EXE or VIRUS.JPG.EXE, and Windows would hide the .EXE part of the filename.
Additionally, virus writers would change the icon inside the executable to look like the icon of a text file or an image, and everybody would be fooled.
Surely this won’t work in Windows 7.
As a grizzled old Windows veteran, I remember the days when computer users spent a lot more time thinking about extensions (and we liked it, dagnab it!). It was kind of discombobulating when Microsoft began downplaying them. But Mikko brings up a pretty compelling reason why it’s not a great idea to hide ‘em. Wonder if Microsoft has thought about this, and why it hasn’t erred on the side of safety?
Posted by Harry McCracken at 12:56 pm13 Comments
By Harry McCracken | Posted at 9:51 am on Friday, May 1, 2009
A happy May to you!
Google data barges? Love it!
Junk and clutter: It’s the blaring banner ads and annoying boxes that slide across the screen that are ruining the Web. I avoid it all with a smart ad blocker–Ad Muncher, a miraculous tool.
But there’s still a problem.
Web pages aren’t designed for reading, and that’s one of my pleasures: Reading product and movie reviews, for instance, or devouring John McPhee’s lengthy pieces in The New Yorker, or James Fallows (read his old, but still valuable What Was I Thinking? in The Atlantic).
Up until now, I’d click the Print button if the site offered one. Then I discovered Readability, a site that reformats any page of text to conform to your reading style. Set up Readability by choosing a style, font size, and margin width, and then drag the Readability bookmarklet to your browser’s toolbar. The next time you’re on a Web page you want to read, click the Readability link and the transformation happens immediately. (You can get a better idea by watching the video.)
It seems unlikely that Microsoft has any major news involving Windows 7 features up its sleeve, but interesting tidbits are still coming out. The latest is today’s news that it’s eliminating the venerable AutoRun feature for USB drives. A blog post at the company’s Engineering Windows 7 blog explains that the Conficker worm used AutoRun (which identifies programs on a removable device and lets users choose to have them run automatically) and AutoPlay (which notices that you’ve inserted a removable storage device and provides a menu of tasks to choose from) to provide an AutoPlay item that looks like it’ll open up a folder but which actually launches Conficker. Windows 7 won’t display AutoRun items in this menu, and Microsoft says it’ll update Windows Vista and Windows XP to behave the same way. Conficker may be devious, but the security hole was pretty gaping all along; it’s surprising that it took this long for it to be publicized and for Microsoft to seal it up.
AutoPlay will still display AutoRun items on CDs and DVDs–which are presumably far less likely to carry worms than USB drives–but Microsoft is tweaking the message you get to make it clearer that launching an AutoRun item involves running a program from an external device.
Side note: Microsoft’s Security Research and Defense Blog also has an item on the change, in which it says that “AutoPlay will no longer support the AutoRun functionality for non removable optical media” This momentarily confused me–it brought to mind visions of a DVD drive with a single disc sealed up inside the computer–but I’m reasonably sure that it’s a typo and that the poster meant to say “non-optical removable media.”
Posted by Harry McCracken at 2:47 pm6 Comments
I want 100-mbps Internet!
How can you ensure that Windows 7 will run Windows XP applications? Make it run Windows XP. That’s the idea behind Windows XP Mode, a free download that Microsoft will make available to buyers of Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate. (Here’s Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurott’s report on it.) It’s a copy of the next generation of Microsoft’s Virtual PC virtualization software that’s been pre-bundled with Windows XP, and which lets you run XP apps within Windows 7 as if they were native 7 ones–seamlessly, in theory. Sounds a bit like the experience of using VMWare Fusion’s Unity feature or Parallels Desktop’s Coherence one to make Windows apps show up in OS X.
You gotta hope that there are relatively few instances when Windows 7 won’t be able to run an XP app natively, but this sounds like a useful security blanket, especially for companies that run custom apps. It’s also a sign of the ongoing relevance of Windows XP. Sounds like a smart, inventive move on the part of Microsoft.
Posted by Harry McCracken at 9:25 pm10 Comments
Enough with the rumors, educated guesses, and BitTorrent leaks: Microsoft is saying when it’ll release Windows 7 Release Candidate 1, the version that’s likely to be the last major one before the OS is finalized. As Ina Fried reports over at Cnet, developers who are members of Microsoft’s MSDN program can download it on April 30th; everyone else will get it on May 5th. The RC will feature a lot of minor tweaks compared to the beta, but if it involves any surprises it’ll be…surprising! Absent wild-card scenarios like government interference, it seems all but certain that the computers folks buy for back-to-school season and the holidays will get the shipping version of the OS.
I’ll install it and share thoughts when I can get my hands on it; if you give it a test drive, I’d love to know what you think.
Posted by Harry McCracken at 4:49 pm9 Comments
By Harry McCracken | Posted at 9:32 am on Friday, April 24, 2009
How’s your Friday so far?
They’re out to get you: Sleaze balls writing devious, sneaky programs that load you system with junk. I’ll show you a few quick ways to protect yourself from Windows Trojans that want your credit card number, malware that slows your system, and spyware that tracks your keystrokes.
Over the years I’ve played with at least 3 million security programs–Norton, McAfee (the program that AOL uses), Kaspersky, Spyware Doctor, Vipre, Avast, AVG, and Trend, to name just a few. They all give adequate protection. (I know, I didn’t mention your favorite. Get over it.) While all these tools do the job, there are differences: For instance, I think Spyware Doctor reports too many false positives and AVG, a former favorite, gets bigger with each iteration.
If you’re comfortable with your existing protection program, and confident it’s protecting you, (read: you haven’t been infected recently), stick with it.
However, I often get e-mails asking if it’s a good idea to switch products.
Yesterday, I wrote about Ed Bott’s hands-on experience with Windows 7 Starter Edition, which limits you to three open applications at a time, with some exceptions. Ed thinks Starter might be okay if you’re working mostly in your browser on a netbook, but would likely be a headache for more traditional applications on a more traditional notebook.
Ed’s take on Starter is about as positive as you’re likely to find right now. Other folks–most of who, like me, presumably haven’t actually tried it–are using words like joke and farce to describe it.
But the more I think about Starter Edition, the more I think that’s something I hinted at in my earlier post: trialware. Or, in other words, a piece of software that has had an artificial limitation placed on it that greatly reduces its usefulness while still giving you enough power to learn the ropes and whet your appetite. One that has a relatively inexpensive upgrade path to a full version that doesn’t have the limitations. We already know that Windows 7 will be designed to permit easy upgrades from one version of the OS to another.
If Microsoft makes $25 or less per copy of Windows 7 Starter Edition that’s preinstalled on a computer (which is Ed’s guess) but can convince a meaningful minority of people who buy netbooks that run it to spend–oh, say, $70 to upgrade to Windows 7 Home Basic, it’ll be able to recover some of the Windows profits that are vanishing as the market shifts to netbooks and other super-cheap laptops. And if Starter’s limitations are truly onerous, you gotta think that a decent percentage of netbook buyers will be willing to pay Microsoft to eliminate the pain.
(I know that a lot of trialware times out after thirty days or otherwise becomes completely unsable, but not all of it–some of it is designed to continue working forever, but in a fahion that’s just annoying enough that you’ll spring for a paid edition. It’s that form of trialware that Starter Edition seems to me to be an example of.)
Meanwhile, another line of thought on Starter Edition that’s cropping up seems irrefutable to me: It’s not in Microsoft’s long-term interest to release a version of Windows that cripples the user’s ability to run Windows apps, thereby making it all the more tempting to use Web apps instead. Starter Edition’s limitations may not only make Linux a more viable alternative right away, but also push people into the browser, thereby making them less reliant on the Windows ecosystem over the long haul.
Oh, and is the idea of a computer with a fundamentally hobbled operating system unthinkable? Maybe so by today’s standards, but I’ve been writing about this stuff for long enough that I remember the days when it wasn’t uncommon for a computer’s base price to be sans OS, period. A computer with Starter Edition sounds like it will tippy-toe back in that direction without being completely unusable out of the box.
Note that none of the above amounts to a defense of Starter Edition, particularly: I’m just trying to figure out Microsoft’s thinking, and why it thinks Starter Edition makes sense. If real live consumers react to it as negatively as pundits have so far, it wouldn’t stun me to see Microsoft loosen the restrictions at some point–a Starter Edition that the market finds intolerable would need to be rethought quickly.
Those are my thoughts as of ten minutes to five on a Wednesday afternoon. Let’s end with a silly little poll: