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.
Microsoft 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.
For 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.
I’m not one to pack too heavily when I travel. I tend to bring the bare minimum necessary. I know it will probably catch up with me one of these days, but I just don’t like to lug extra things around (which is probably a very subjective thing). This time around wasn’t any different. The $40 in US cash that I brought to Finland came back with me and I never even followed through with my original intent to purchase some euros (they aren’t cheap). One other way that I minimized my baggage is that I left my laptop at home.
So how did a programmer make a one week trip without a laptop? I brought my Windows 8 RT tablet instead. I left my desktop on at home as well since the only meaningful thing that I can’t do on my tablet is run Visual Studio and the Hyper-V emulators. Fortunately, the built in remote desktop software worked great and allowed me to work on software projects when I had the time. Beyond programming, I was able to use a USB cable to connect my T2i in order to copy pictures of the camera. IE11 and the Office 2013 suite worked great as well. Even when I needed to share files with a co-worker, I was able to plug in a flash drive to swap files. Watching shows, playing games and even editing photos was all there.
What was also nice was the all day power without plugging into an outlet. I would charge it up at night and it would last a full day of work during meetings. The only negative with regard to power was the lack of a AC plug on my flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta. After several hours of use on the train to Helsinki and flight to Amsterdam, I just didn’t have enough power to make it to Atlanta. That wasn’t the tablet’s fault though. I did bring my wireless mouse that I use with my work laptop and that made long sessions a little easier.
The whole experience made with wish that I had either the Surface 2 or the Surface 2 Pro for the additional power and battery life. Not because of anything necessarily lacking with the Gen 1 tablet, but it would be the little extra to make the experience even better. Good trip though and I’m emboldened to leave my laptop home even more often.
Based on anecdotal evidence, I would say that I’m in the minority when I say that I love Windows 8 (and 8.1 even more). It’s not perfect, but using Windows 8 on my desktop and Windows 8 RT on my tablet has been great. I had a few things to learn, but since then things have gone well. As a side note, I don’t have anything against Windows 7 as it is fantastic as well. It’s just that the synchronization between desktops and browsers and the new touch controls have worked well.
Now that’s my own minority opinion. Most people are confused by the new Start screen on Windows 8. They find it difficult to close apps and they are somewhat disappointed by the lost mouse functionality (like right-clicking). That all changes next week with the release of Update 1 for Windows 8.1 (yes, that’s a mouthful). I had the opportunity to update both my tablet and desktop this week and it gives the mouse its power back. If you are using a tablet form factor (as defined by the manufacturer via a hardware id), then you’ll see only a few changes visually. For desktop users, you will now boot directly to the desktop instead of the Start screen. Not only that, you’ll be about to close Windows Store apps by clicking an “x” in the upper right corner of the app. On top of that, right clicks will now register in the Start screen to allow the resizing of tiles as well as pinning said apps to the Taskbar.
These changes should roll out to everyone running 8.1 on Tuesday next week (patch Tuesday). If you are still using version 8, then make sure you grab that update from the Windows App Store first. I don’t think the update will please everyone, but it should make a lot of desktop users very happy (or at least a little less mad). All in all, I’ll call that a win.