Tag Archives: Software

Lenovo Goes Too Far

It’s been the habit of PC manufacturers to pre-load software onto their computers before selling them. The software that gets loaded was originally suppose to be software drivers that was specific to the hardware (hard drives, CD drives, video card, etc…). That quickly turned into software to promote other services that the companies sold. The next thing to happen made matters much worse, software companies would pay the PC manufacturers to pre-install their software on the machines (limited function software that would get the consumer to buy a paid version, virus checkers, adware, etc.). It was this class of software that led to people to consider Windows as being slow and bloated. It was actually the manufacturers that were the root cause of the problem (though OS design did play a part).

Dell, HP and many other PC makers follow this practice, but Lenovo has crossed the line as of late. It was discovered that Lenovo was pre-installing Superfish software. From the linked article on ArsTechnica above:

The critical threat is present on Lenovo PCs that have adware from a company called Superfish installed. As unsavory as many people find software that injects ads into Web pages, there’s something much more nefarious about the Superfish package. It installs a self-signed root HTTPS certificate that can intercept encrypted traffic for every website a user visits. When a user visits an HTTPS site, the site certificate is signed and controlled by Superfish and falsely represents itself as the official website certificate.

Translation: This is bad…. really bad. Read the article for all of the details.

If you have a Lenovo system, you will want to make sure that you use a software tool to remove it. Microsoft recently updated their Windows Defender software to detect and remove it as well.

The action should be a wake up call for consumers. Do not purchase PCs from manufacturers that load their computers down with trial versions and adware. Microsoft offers a “Signature Edition” of many popular PC models (including their own) without any additional pre-loaded software. It’s a clean OS install that should run faster and be more stable over the long term. It’s not just an annoyance anymore, it’s actually a danger to your privacy as well. If Microsoft doesn’t reign this behavior in (which they are limited as to the tools they can use by the anti-trust consent decree), then I suggest using Apple as an alternate vendor (Google already has too many privacy issues for me to recommend). Manufacturers have already proven that they will not do it on their own.

Windows 10 Technical Preview

In my post last week, I posted a number of guesses as to what Microsoft might be adding to the Windows 10 OS (or at least announcing in their big Jan 21st press event). Looks like I got a lot right, some wrong and completely missed one of the biggest pieces. I was hoping for better Xbox One integration and got voice/text chat and a remote play option (within a home) like I hoped. We got to see Windows 10 running on phone devices (and it looked great). We also got to see how Universal Apps would run across every Windows 10 device.

HoloLens

The biggest surprise: Hololens. Hololens is Microsoft’s augmented reality device (large visors) that augment your view with holograms. Right now the scope of the eventual consumer device will be limited, but expect the technology to change the way we view software and devices. Coming up with the software to use the new technology will be its biggest limitation. All that considered, hololens is completely amazing. Really looking forward to seeing this personally.

I’ve been testing out their latest Windows 10 Technical Preview in a virtual machine on my main desktop. My initial reaction was, “Meh, it’s a nice tweak of Windows 8.1″. After using it a little, I think that Microsoft is really nailing this new OS. It really is something that both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users will love. Knowing that I can write one set of code that will run across all devices has me pretty excited as a developer. The completely rebuilt browser engine is another great feature. Shame it took this long. By the way, when you have multiple devices running 8.1 or higher then there is very little configuration involved. Setup took about 20 minutes and I had all of my apps, email, desktop background, etc. I’m sort of shocked that Windows 10 will run on the hardware requirements of Windows 7.

When you combine the fantastic features of Windows 10 (Xbox integration, switching screen layouts between desktop and tablet, new browser, etc.) with the free upgrade from Windows 7, 8, 8.1 for the first year, this is going to be the time when I’ll move all of the PCs in my house to Windows 10. At the same time, I’ll probably start a subscription to Office 365 as well. This will get everyone on the same version of Office and provide cloud storage for all of my photos and videos.

The biggest piece of the puzzle that was missing in their presentation was their vision for digital media moving forward. By that I’m referencing Windows Media Center. We still use MCE to power the media in our house (recording shows, viewing photos and recorded media). Other than a series of individual apps, I didn’t see a unified vision presented. Perhaps they will eventually release their Digital TV Tuner for the Xbox One in the US. If they would do that and support it in Windows 10 (DVR capabilities), then that might suffice.

If you use Microsoft software in your house, prepare for a very exciting Fall 2015. You may want to hold off any hardware purchases until then as you’ll see a whole host of new devices when Win 10 hits the market.

Antimalware Only Works When On

Infection Rate ChartMicrosoft posted via their TechNet Security Blog, some enlightening information today that I thought was worth sharing. They took a look at infection rates for computers running Windows 8 and 8.1 (I would assume rates are worse for Windows 7). They compared those that had up-to-date security software with those that either didn’t have any security software or had software that was out-of-date, turned off or just expired. The take away is that rates were about the same for no security software as they were for software that was either turned off, not updated or expired.

It’s so common to get some type of antivirus or antimalware software with a new computer, but rarely do people actually pay for an updated subscription. With Microsoft Security Essentials being free, no one should be without antivirus software. If you would prefer would of the paid packages from Norton, Trend Micro or McAfee then that’s okay also. Just remember that if you have expired subscriptions that you don’t plan on renewing, then uninstall the software and install the free software from Microsoft. Please don’t delay. Do it this weekend. One other thing, if you go to get Microsoft’s free version, then don’t search for it with a search engine. A lot of those links are bogus. Go to their main site (http://www.microsoft.com) and navigate from there.

Underhanded Software Updates

Adobe Flash UpdateSoftware updates are just a part of owning software in a connected world. Bugs get found and hopefully fixed and this leads to an update that is issued by the vendor. The cycle just continues to repeat itself until you replace the device and then the update cycle starts over on the new device. Okay, I get it. But one part of that cycle I could do without is the “Opt Out” bundling of other software with those updates. The reason companies do this is to make residual income on their sometime free software. Two vendors that are actively doing this now are Adobe and Oracle (bought out Sun Microsystems).

There are two parts of this really. The first question is whether software updates should be offering to install other software during updates. Apple does this when you install any of their software. Install iTunes and they offer to install Safari (and other stuff as well). Adobe Flash updates offer to install Google Chrome and/or the Google Toolbar for IE. Oracle’s Java Updater offers to install Google Chrome as well. This my be questionable, but it is generally accepted.

The big problem is whether the default is to install the other software or to just offer it and require the user to select it. When it is installed by default, this is called “Opt Out”. Most consumers do not read the fine print when they update their software. Can I get a show of hands for those that have read start to finish the most recent license agreement they agreed to? So people typically do the right thing and install updates without realizing that they are agreeing to change browsers to Chrome. The next thing they know, everything has been moved around in their web browser and they are confused. Oh well, they eventually get used to it. Also, Google pays Adobe a small fee (and perhaps a high five) on switching another user to their software.

My advice is to punish those that used such methods. I avoid vendors that push their software this way and the vendors that use their so-called free tools to push other software. If they are unethical with this then they are probably unethical when they use your personal information as well.

Like me, you may need to use some of this software though (or you may like said vendors). What you can do is be very careful when applying updates. Read the options that are available and be careful to un-check those boxes when they are presented. Vigilance is necessary to keep the “junk” (however you define that) off of your machine. Be careful out there.

Patch Tuesday Means Extra Work Wednesday

Windows Update IconFor years now, Microsoft has released patches to its numerous operating systems on Tuesdays of each week (when patches are needed). Instead of having them come out on random days, IT administrators liked having a predictable release schedule. This made management of them a little easier (not much, but easier). At least predictable. So Patch Tuesday is when updates come (in large numbers at times).

With me being a developer (and playing video games in the evening), having a couple different computers is not that unusual. Couple that with us home schooling our four children and our demand for computing devices is pretty high. We also have a media center for the living room and a home server for file sharing and computer backups. All in all, it looks a lot like a computer lab around the office. So when a bunch of important patches hit on a Tuesday, my home server starts complaining (raising alerts) that I have machines that need updating. Even the home server (Windows Home Server 2011) needs to have patches installed. By Wednesday, I’m usually trying to tell each of the kids to install updates and reboot their computers.

You would think that it would happen automatically, but that’s not always something that you want. I don’t want anyone to loose school work and I don’t want the media center to update while recording a show. So usually that means checking the server alerts to see which machines haven’t completed the process and manually performing the update (and fixing any issues that might be unresolved). With the slow reboots on the old machines, it really makes me want to upgrade some hard drives to SSDs.

As much irritation as it creates, the whole process is a necessary one. In many households, updates go uninstalled and this will many times lead to a virus in the environment. The OS bugs need to be fixed, but unless you install these fixes then you leave yourself open to problems. Just remember, Microsoft will never send an update link via email. The only way that you should install updates is through the Windows Update portion of the control panel. To find it quickly, do a search for “Windows Update” from the Start menu. I know it’s a pain (believe me, I know), but you’ll save yourself an even bigger headache later.